Tuesday, August 16

Interconnected Electronic Records Could Prevent Next Ebola Crisis, Top HHS Official Says

Electronic health records could protect the United States against the next Ebola-like crisis, Department of Health and Human Services CTO Bryan Sivak told VentureBeat on Oct 28.

“Wouldn’t it be great if the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] could be immediately alerted if a patient showed up at a clinic somewhere with a temperature of 104 degrees, and who had recently traveled to West Africa?” he asked, commenting after his appearance at the HealthBeat Conference in San Francisco.

Many healthcare providers have already begun EHR adoption under the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act of 2009, and clinics and hospital are required to report serious infectious disease cases to state health authorities, who in turn can make a report to the CDC.

The problem, which Sivak believes interconnected EHR systems can correct, is that the current system isn’t automated. It takes time, and parts of the process aren’t even digitized.

“Electronic Health Records are at the earliest stage of exchanging data to regional and national repositories. Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements has been the start of the preparation for this process,” says Ernie Chastain, Vice President, Benchmark Systems Inc. “The immediate issue that I see in the ambulatory sector is that not all doctors utilize an EHR and not all EHR’s are Meaningful Use 2 certified. Practices/clinics utilizing those sub standard EHR’s will have to invest time and money again to upgrade to a compliant EHR or continue with their system which is inefficient in many areas including data exchange.”

The Next Ebola

The Ebola crisis in the U.S., most health experts agree, has been blown out of proportion by news media. Sivak commented that Ebola is “fairly easily containable, once you know where the outbreak is.”

But there could be far worse threats on the horizon.

Some doctors have suggested a new strain of Asian Bird Flu (for which there is currently no effective vaccine) could make its way to U.S. shores.

If that were to happen, an early warning system of automated reporting based on shared electronic records would be “hugely helpful,” according to the VentureBeat article, “in containing an outbreak.”

EHR in the News

EHR systems have been both praised and blamed in recent weeks, coming into the spotlight when Texas Health Presbyterian first attributed treatment errors in the care of Thomas Duncan to a workflow problem in its electronic records — and then promptly retracted the claim.

Duncan, the first person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with Ebola, was initially sent home from the emergency room even though a nurse had noted in his record that he had recently returned from West Africa. He later returned to the hospital, was diagnosed and died from the disease.

According to one analysis led by Hardeep Singh, chief of the health policy, quality, and informatics program at the Veterans Affairs Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness, and Safety, the industry must face problems in some EHR systems and seek ways to fix the usability flaws that can contribute to mismanagement of patient care.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest to reach the intended results of having high acceptance and Meaningful Use standards,” says Chastain, Benchmark Solutions Inc. “Our national healthcare system has taken huge steps forward with this process but it’s time for some doctors/practices/clinics and our national government to reevaluate their position. It’s time to accelerate the acceptance of and proper usage of EHR’s rather than continue with inefficiencies.”

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