Electronic Health Records

Integration & Interoperability News

Using EHR, HIE to share vaccine data improves public health

By Jennifer Bresnick

EHRs are an effective tool in the fight against infectious diseases, according to a new study by researchers at the Columbia University School of Nursing.  Automated immunization reporting using EHR data helped speed the collection of vaccine data and allowed public health agencies to assemble a clearer picture of at-risk populations.  EHR reporting also reduced the amount of paperwork involved in immunization tracking and freed clinical staff to pursue other tasks.

Health officials recommend children and adults be vaccinated against 17 preventable diseases.  But tracking these immunizations can be difficult, especially among underserved populations, low-income patients, and children who may receive vaccines at multiple providers.  The study looked at 1.7 million records submitted to the NY Citywide Immunizations Registry between 2007 and 2011, which spanned both manual record transmissions and an automated reporting program.  The researchers found that submissions of new records increased by 18% after instituting automated reporting, and historical records of vaccines already received jumped by 98%.

“The efficiency offered by automation has significant implications for managing public health, whether it is by informing a local physician on the health of an individual or informing policymakers on health trends within a whole community,” said lead researcher Professor Jacqueline Merrill, RN, MPH, DNSc. “For example, EHRs greatly enhance our ability to help at-risk populations for whom up-to-date immunizations are critical, such as children, immunosuppressed individuals, or the chronically ill. Before automated registries, reporting was less structured and data submittal was less consistent.”

Immunization records are a popular way to build up and test health information exchange (HIE) networks, with many HIE initiatives focusing on vaccine databases as a way to bridge the gap between multiple providers.  Large national pharmacy chains such as Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens recently partnered with electronic prescribing network Surescripts to collect and transmit immunization notifications from their in-house clinics to a patient’s primary care provider.

Many retail-based clinics offer telephone or text message reminders for services like flu shots, but individual physicians are concerned that the lack of robust HIE and centralized immunization data is preventing them from doing the same.  Cross-checking appointments for under-immunized patients took extra time that clinical staff couldn’t spare, and spotty records made repeat reminders an annoyance for patients.  Widespread automated reporting, such as the Columbia researchers studied, could reduce or eliminate many of these problems, as long as the spectrum of providers who administer vaccinations are all on board with a single, interconnected reporting system.

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