ONC: Infrastructure necessary for real-time data collection, public health use

The increasing use of electronic health records to collect data is spurring more real-time data collection, and public health agencies need to build the technical and administrative infrastructure to receive the data, according to a new issue brief published this week by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Data collection is evolving from a one-way system--first consisting of reports submitted first on paper, then electronically--to becoming a bi-directional system of health data exchange, according to the brief.

Reports, it points out, are being sent more rapidly, formatted in standardized ways and transmitted using commonly accepted content standards, reducing the amount of translation and need for system updates to accept the information. This, however, remains a work in progress.

Health information exchanges, according to the brief, can provide valuable data exchange and infrastructure supports to public health agencies to advance public health reporting, research, patient-safety event reporting and more, once interoperability issues are worked out.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is working with states on a number of initiatives, including the push to provide consumers with access to their own information, such as the immunization registries available in San Diego and Indiana.

ONC, meanwhile, is providing technical assistance to regional extension centers, health information exchanges and other stakeholders on its implementation guides to reduce variability that inhibits interoperability, and on updating those guides to fix known issues.

HHS is exploring, for instance, the widespread use of Blue Button during emergencies to give patients access to their records, a model successfully demonstrated during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

However, more support is needed for the on-boarding processes required of public health agencies in Meaningful Use Stage 2, according to the paper. In addition, state and local health departments need to develop long-term sustainability plans to continue building infrastructure to accommodate new standards and technology.

Interoperability and health information exchange make up one of four workgroups outlined in National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo's plans to transitioning the agency's current workgroups into "less siloed" ones.  

This "evolution" reportedly will include cross membership between the HIT policy and standards committees. DeSalvo has said that ONC will set a very high priority on health information exchange use and infrastructure.

To learn more:
- find the issue brief (.pdf)

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