Industry Voices—How health data could help with COVID-19 (if we can get it right)

I was relieved when HIMSS was canceled. We had already made the decision to withdraw to protect our team and so we can focus on continuing to help on the front lines of California healthcare as the statewide health data network. As public health leaders, it is our responsibility to make this kind of difficult choice. 

The work we lead at Manifest MedEx is designed for times of healthcare crisis. A real-time network for clinical and claims data is a fundamental piece of public health infrastructure.

These are interoperability systems that ideally we would have had in place a decade ago, but at least the acceleration of the past few years means that more than 20 million Californians are covered on our nonprofit network today.

RELATED: Top insurers commit to easing cost barriers to coronavirus testing

Shared health data are a crucial tool during pandemics for several reasons:

  • Proactive Assistance for the Highest-Risk Patients - New findings indicate that coronavirus is especially threatening to patients who have existing chronic disease, especially lung disease. Teams like Charter Healthcare in Southern California are already managing the palliative and rehabilitation care for these kinds of populations of patients in their community. They connect to the Manifest MedEx (MX) network to access the latest hospitalization, medication and lab results in their work to coordinate care. In the event of an outbreak in their region, groups like Charter can use data from MX to coordinate care for their patients with local hospital and health plan partners.
  • Care Coordination for Infected Patients - When a coronavirus patient enters our healthcare system today, it is critical to know their past medical history and to notify others involved in their care. Especially when frustrated patients may have already sought and been seen by multiple different providers on their way to a diagnosis. To help with this, Manifest MedEx is working on “smart alerts” that will let a health plan or provider know when one of their patients is seen in the hospital with the new U07.1 ICD-10 code indicating coronavirus.  

RELATED: CMS releases guidance for providers to handle coronavirus as U.S. cases surge

  • Public Health Leadership - It is extremely disappointing to see the recent decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pull down public information about testing. Especially in comparison to the transparency of countries like Singapore which has quickly launched interactive dashboards of information on specific cases and community exposures and South Korea which has already published early epidemiological data. A single, responsive and expert source of data in times of crisis helps prevent the “speculation and conspiracy theory [that] drown out responsible coverage of the disease, leaving citizens scared and confused” described by Bloomberg reporter Faye Flam. Manifest MedEx can help supply data, but we need public health authorities to step up with leadership and transparency

We certainly have the talent. The American government has unparalleled public health leaders like Anthony Fauci. These leaders need to be given voice, authority and resources to guide our nation through this challenging time. Bill Gate’s letter to The New England Journal of Medicine is a smart and inspiring call to action for public health leaders here and abroad. In the meantime, we can look to the lead of companies like Amazon, Google and Twitter that are moving swiftly to limit travel, withdraw from conferences and build up work-from-home programs for their teams.

  • Combating Disease and Finding Treatment - Disjointed medical data slow the advance of vaccines, limit our understanding of the disease and hold back the progress of research. When I worked in the White House during the Ebola crisis, we worked across departments and countries to be sure scientists had access to the latest data so they could develop cures and vaccines. Comprehensive, real-world health data facilitated by networks like Manifest MedEx can help more quickly accelerate the development of new tests, vaccines and treatments to stem the spread of this new disease.

As we continue to assist healthcare leaders in the fight against coronavirus, I hope that we will see a national call to action for modern health data infrastructure that is badly needed anytime in this country, but especially in light of what is happening today. I hope this is our wake-up call that American healthcare needs to work together.

Claudia Williams is the CEO of Manifest MedEx and a former senior adviser for health innovation and technology at the White House, where she helped launch President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.