Electronic data sharing between doctors and public health agencies is rare, new ONC data finds

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Diving brief:

  • Electronic data sharing between doctors and public health agencies was dismal even before the coronavirus pandemic began, according to new government data.
  • Fewer than one in five primary care physicians electronically exchanged patient health information with public health agencies in 2019, according to a new report from the Office of the National Coordinator. More than 70% of hospitals experienced at least one major challenge with electronic public health reporting that year.
  • The federal government has a number of initiatives underway to try to improve the free electronic flow of data between providers and public health agencies, including a new ONC task force to modernize public health data systems which started this week.

Overview of the dive:

The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of closing significant gaps in the United States’ public health infrastructure, including the need for more fluid data exchange between providers and public health agencies.

According to ONC. But the United States faces a deluge of public health threats, including more infectious ones covid-19 variants and growing monkeypox cases, making real-time communication between doctors and those responsible for monitoring and preventing outbreaks of infectious diseases even more integral.

In 2019, only 12% of office-based physicians in the United States electronically exchanged patient health information with public health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ONC found.

Overall, about a quarter of US physicians were unsure if their practice exchanged data electronically with public health agencies.

Primary care physicians who had the ability to send and receive patient information electronically were three times more likely to share it with public health agencies than physicians who did not exchange electronically. They were also more likely to seek immunization information outside of their organization and to record social and behavioral determinants of patient health data.

Meanwhile, primary care physicians using certified medical information technology were much more likely to share information with public health agencies than those without, the ONC said.

Public health reporting capabilities also varied based on EHR developer market share. The data dossier found physicians using EHRs with large market shares – Epic, eClinicalWorks, athenahealth, identify and All Scripts — had the highest rates of electronic exchanges with public health agencies compared to physicians using smaller providers.

The ONC data summary does not dive into overall physician reporting levels. Much still happens through manual, paper-based methods. The agency’s researchers also said it did not reflect current levels of electronic public health reporting, which “may have improved during the pandemic.”

But the low rates of electronic reporting could be due to variations in the data required by different jurisdictions, as well as the inability of public health agencies to receive standardized data from physicians electronically, researchers said.

Currently, a number of federal programs are in place to try to improve data sharing between providers and public health agencies, including the USCDI+ initiative and the STAR HIE program. CMS also proposed a new requirement that clinicians participating in the interoperability category of its merit-based payment adjustment program for Medicare report on program metrics related to vaccination and electronic case reporting. .

Additionally, on Wednesday, ONC Chief Micky Tripathi launched the work of the Public Health Data Systems Task Force, which will make recommendations to the ONC and CDC to improve public health data systems. public health.