The healthcare system in the United States is becoming overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19 and there is no doubt that this epidemic will test the limits of healthcare delivery systems from end to end. Of course, at the present moment, everyone’s focus is (and rightly should be) on ensuring hospitals and healthcare workers have the appropriate equipment and protective gear they need to stay safe and adequately treat patients. That said, there are other IT considerations that should be taken into account to help support this crisis.
The technology in use in hospitals and health systems is being tested in ways it has never before had to withstand. As a result, it is absolutely critical that healthcare organizations have the reliable, accurate technology infrastructure in place to manage the rapid escalation of information sharing and management necessitated by COVID-19.
Here are just a few of the ways the IT infrastructure throughout the healthcare industry is being pushed to new levels and types of utilization:
1. Sharing Data for Public Health: During this public health emergency, providers will be required to share patient data for anyone who has been tested for COVID-19 with the CDC and public health officials. This type of information sharing will be imperative to government and public health officials understanding how the disease is impacting communities across the country and the types of decisions they will need to make to keep everyone safe.
This will result in an overwhelming need to share information across a variety of disparate settings, making it even more important for organizations to have a solution in place that seamlessly facilitates data integration.
2. Telemedicine: In an abundance of caution, the CDC is recommending healthcare providers utilize telemedicine as much as possible. This approach will help to mitigate the spread of the disease – eliminating unnecessary points of contact – and will also be an essential function for patients who require ongoing care or may have medical issues that arise during this unprecedented time.
With that said, this increase in message volume and data sharing will increase pressure on healthcare organizations’ communications and information sharing systems that often struggle to assimilate and interpret disparate data sets.
3. Alternative Care Settings: The healthcare information infrastructure is already being tested by additional levels of care out in the community. This means not only are providers and officials sharing data from within hospital settings, but also between practices, ambulatory and surgical centers, urgent care facilities, pharmacies, and the home.
To address the growing need for COVID-19 testing, we are also seeing more pop-up coronavirus triage diagnosis and treatment facilities where clinicians can evaluate and test those who need it. Consequently, this requires additional technological resources that have the capabilities to integrate each patient’s data from the testing site to the proper destinations like the patients’ health record, as well as public health officials and the CDC.
4. Electronic Messaging: This massive surge in electronic messaging is already creating added integration strain for many organizations that have delicate IT infrastructures. These infrastructures are being pushed to limits they haven’t had to reach before. In general, many businesses are experiencing an abundance of connectivity issues with conference lines and video conferencing systems struggling to keep up with the demand of workforces working from home.
These connectivity issues will be no different, if not worse for healthcare IT infrastructures and the massive influx of patients that will inevitably require care as the number of people with COVID-19 increases.
5. Data Analytics: Competent data tracking will also be critical during this time. In order for us to better understand the disease, we need to know who has it, how they responded, and their health background. Additionally, once a vaccine is available to the masses, we’ll need to understand metrics for that as well. For example, how many people have gotten the vaccine, how well it is working, how patients respond to it, etc.
These kinds of data sets can help arm physicians in making treatment decisions, as well as provide public health officials with the data required to make recommendations or implement regulations that will protect the greater public’s health and safety. In order to protect ourselves, we will want to have more robust and complete algorithms based on comprehensive and accurate data sets to drive treatment decisions.
While we are hopeful that we can stem the tide of this health emergency, it really depends on effective informatics as much as anything. The stronger healthcare organizations make their IT infrastructures and the more data we gather now, the more accurately we can distribute resources, treat patients, and provide public guidance to mitigate and manage the spread.
That said, data sharing, and gathering data and analytics, in general, can be difficult, and with such a vast population affected by COVID-19, these efforts are bound to become more challenging. Health organizations can alleviate and limit these issues by taking necessary measures to ensure their organizations’ IT infrastructure is healthy and can manage disparate data sets.
However, in order for this to work, healthcare organizations will need full access to data points and sources, which requires accurate information sharing to ensure all data is normalized.
Drew Ivan, Chief Product and Strategy Officer, Lyniate
Drew’s focus is on how to operationalize and productize integration technologies, patterns, and best practices. His experience includes nearly 20 years in health IT, working with a wide spectrum of customers, including public HIEs, IDNs, payers, life sciences companies, and software vendors, with the goal of improving outcomes and reducing costs by aggregating and analyzing clinical, claims, and cost data.