Surescripts teams up with CDC, providers to accelerate COVID-19 case reporting

A woman rides a bus while wearing a face mask
Electronic case reporting in the context of COVID-19 cases provides more complete data, particularly on race and ethnicity, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official. (alvarez/Getty)

Surescripts has teamed up with public health officials and laboratories to accelerate case reporting on COVID-19 cases.

The electronic prescribing company has rolled out a clinical direct messaging service to support electronic case reporting (eCR) of coronavirus and other infectious diseases to the public health surveillance systems.

The service replaces the often burdensome manual process of reporting diseases to public health agencies.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) eCR program enables public health agencies to get accurate, real-time data on COVID-19 cases to support case management and contact tracing efforts.

Hospitals and doctors' offices are mandated by state laws to submit reports to public health for conditions deemed reportable, which now include COVID-19. But there is significant variation from state to state in what conditions are reportable and the data that must be reported,

While most healthcare providers have adopted electronic health records (EHRs), case reporting is still largely a manual process, according to Steven Lane, M.D., clinical informatics director, privacy, information security, and interoperability at Sutter Health.

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Physicians often have to call, fax, or mail these reports into their health department and it can be a fragmented, slow, and inefficient process, according to the CDC.

Accurate, real-time data on COVID-19 cases is important to help public health officials understand the magnitude of the health problem, to understand the distribution of illness in populations, and to understand whether control interventions are working.

“Improving how data flows between health care and public health using state-of-the-art health information technology is critical to making health data more useful,” said Laura Conn, health scientist and eCR lead at the CDC in a statement.

“With the proliferation of outbreaks and the need for fast access to patient health data, bridging the electronic exchange of information between public health and health care is essential," she said.

Anecdotal evidence of electronic case reporting in the context of COVID is showing that data pulled directly from the health record, as opposed to manual reports, is providing more complete data, particularly on race and ethnicity, Conn said during a recent American Medical Association virtual event.

The eCR program is a collaborative effort of the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), and the CDC.

As of June 29, 21 healthcare organizations were in production with the direct clinical messaging service and more than 715,000 reportable electronic initial case reports had been delivered to 43 public health jurisdictions.

An additional 18 healthcare organizations are in the process of implementing the technology and 54 of 58 public health jurisdictions are receiving case reports through the automated service.

Sacramento, California-based Sutter Health was part of an initial cohort of hospitals working with the CDC and Surescripts to integrate automated electronic case reporting into its EHR.

"We were able to go live in about three days and hope to advance eCR as a nationwide approach to case reporting," said Lane

“COVID-19 has shone a bright light on our need to maximize the use of standards-based interoperability tools. It's important to provide critical interoperability services that deliver eCR between providers and public health agencies for COVID-19," he said.

RELATED: Gottlieb, Mostashari propose national COVID-19 surveillance system

The CDC also developed an electronic case reporting app for EHR companies.

The app, based on Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standards, enables healthcare providers that can't automatically send case reports from their EHRs to more efficiently send data to public health agencies.

“In the world of public health, diseases often move faster than data,” said Patina Zarcone-Gagne, director of informatics at APHL. “eCR automates the submission of case reports from healthcare providers, reducing the burden of meeting the legal requirement to report while improving the timeliness, accuracy, and completeness of data for public health action.”

Built using the Direct protocol and integrated in EHR and pharmacy software, Surescripts service connects clinicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals to securely exchange protected health information.

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