Lesson Learned – Why Data Should Flow Seamlessly From Hospitals to Public Health Agencies

Although health systems have emergency preparedness plans to guide them through public health emergencies (PHE), the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many health systems and communities at a pace that strains even the best-laid plans. Patients with coronavirus symptoms overwhelmed many hospitals, doctors, nurses and other frontline caregivers, which often left providers with limited tools for sharing that information with local public health agencies.  This, in turn, made it more difficult to coordinate community-wide responses and manage system capacity to care for the growing number of COVID-19 patients. Given that we expect to be managing and caring for COVID-19 patients for some time, it is critical that health systems and public health agencies collaborate more effectively, using analytics to prepare for and meet fluctuating patient demands.

The most significant barrier hospitals face in reporting surveillance data to public health agencies is the agencies’ lack of capacity to receive data electronically.

A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) illustrates the critical need for “extreme interoperability” among providers and public health authorities during a PHE, especially during unprecedented events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers looked at barriers hospitals face in reporting surveillance data about health conditions to public health agencies, as well as how those barriers have impacted markets with high concentrations of COVID-19 patients. The researchers’ data pool consisted of 3,512 hospitals in 302 hospital referral regions (HRRs) in all 50 states.

According to an American Hospital Association survey of hospitals, that was analyzed in the JAMIA report, the most significant barrier hospitals face in reporting surveillance data to public health agencies is the agencies’ lack of capacity to receive data electronically.

The significant barriers reported by hospitals are:

41.2%Agencies’ lack of capacity to receive data electronically

31.9%Interface-related issues

14.7%Difficulty extracting data from EHR system

14.2%Different vocabulary standards

8.3%Hospitals’ lack of capacity to send data electronically

3.3%Hospitals don’t know which public health agency to send data to

The researchers then evaluated the prevalence of those barriers, referred to as “capability gaps,” comparatively across 302 HRRs, which the researchers divided into quartiles based on their projected COVID-19 infection rates and hospital bed capacity needs.

According to the report, the biggest capability gaps were most heavily concentrated in the 31 HRRs across the country with the highest need for COVID-19 bed capacity.  In short, the hospitals facing the most COVID-19 cases were in the worst position to report surveillance data about their patients to public health agencies.

“Had electronic data sharing been in place, hospitals could have quickly transmitted COVID-19 testing results and syndromic surveillance data to public health agencies to supplement their testing and provide greater clarity on disease prevalence and incidence,” the researchers said.


The researchers concluded, “COVID-19 has shown that lack of data can hinder pandemic management efforts. Test results and syndromic data should flow seamlessly from hospitals to public health agencies.” The study’s findings highlight the need for all healthcare stakeholders to liberate their data so it can flow freely and securely in real time, to whoever needs it to make informed decisions to serve their patients. If you’re searching for answers, it may be time to look at a strategic partner with experience transforming data into collaborative insights and actions, through a three-step process of aggregating, curating and engaging.

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