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EHR Interoperability’s Role in Ongoing Modernization

Integrated EHR systems have shown considerable benefits for advancing both individual patient care and public health.

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Electronic health records interoperability has proven critical for advancing both medical care and public health across federal agencies.

Speaking at the GovernmentCIO Media & Research EHR Summit, representatives from both the public sector and private industry discussed efforts to foster EHR interoperability, as well as the payoff for their organizations’ health care and research missions.

One of the most widespread payoffs of EHR interoperability is the ability to rapidly access and share relevant data from a patient’s medical history, a resource that allows clinicians to better diagnose and manage conditions ranging from cancer to COVID-19.

“To have data elements and be able to map to specific data model structure is a tremendous help to us when we treat patients. Whether we’re talking about diagnosis or treatment of the disease, we need the information in real time,” said Belinda Seto, deputy director of the NIH Office of Data Science Strategy.

This has spelled considerable benefits in the areas of public health as well, where policymakers and federal leadership are responsible for overseeing entire systems of care amidst often demanding circumstances that require data to inform effective decision-making. EHR interoperability has helped lessen the strain of this process and overall better manage both care and the broader public health response.

“It’s important to emphasize that access to actionable data in a timely manner is very important to the public health ecosystem. This is true for routine work and even more so during a public health emergency. What we’ve been living through with COVID-19 for the past 18 to 20 months has demonstrated the huge gaps we have in timely access to actionable data at local, state and federal public,” said Dr. Adi Gundlapalli, chief public health informatics officer at CDC.

The standardizing and development of EHR as a foundation for sharing information has fostered collaboration between agencies and private-sector partners, including through allowing safe permissions to certain data that can help support collaborative research and public health endeavors.

“It allows us to do data-use agreements up front to know who and what agencies want to collaborate with each other, and then building a catalog of services to know what services are available for each agency so that they can ask for EHR or data sources from each agency and then building a community of engagement. It allows us to better identify like-minded researchers and match those people together on one platform,” said Nelly Connolly, global HHS mission accounts manager at ServiceNow.

The ongoing investment in EHR interoperability development ultimately paid benefits not merely for the day-to-day functioning of medical systems and quality of care, but also for shaping a more effective response to the sudden demands of the COVID-19 pandemic — including in fostering collaboration between agencies with a shared mission.

“I think everyone knows the importance of [Department of Veterans Affairs] data as it relates to public health. We’ve already experienced some of that with COVID and how we need to report those COVID numbers in a standard format. We’ve had a lot of discussions with the [Defense Department] about what is needed to build a system so that DOD, VA and the Coast Guard are reporting the same thing to the same place when sharing information with the CDC,” said Lynelle Johnson, acting chief medical officer at VA’s EHR modernization office.

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