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Christopher Jason 


Implementing travel history into the EHR and enhancing patient data exchange is crucial to limiting the spread of COVID-19

Effective patient data exchange can help trigger an effective response to COVID-19, according to a manuscript written by medical professionals in the Journal of Informatics in Health and Biomedicine.

Tracing the origins of the coronavirus is crucial to flattening the curve, as the notoriously contagious disease crosses state lines and hits the most populated area of the country the hardest. Luckily, there is EHR data that is readily available for researchers to utilize.

“COVID-19 data flowing across geographic borders are extremely useful to public health professionals for many purposes such as accelerating the pharmaceutical development pipeline, and for making vital decisions about intensive care unit rooms, where to build temporary hospitals, or where to boost supplies of personal protection equipment, ventilators, or diagnostic tests,” wrote the authors

“Sharing data enables quicker dissemination and validation of pharmaceutical innovations, as well as improved knowledge of what prevention and mitigation measures work,” they continued. “Even if physical borders around the globe are closed, it is crucial that data continues to transparently flow across borders to enable a data economy to thrive which will promote global public health through global cooperation and solidarity.”

The five contributing authors join other researchers in pointing to travel history information and its utility in the EHR.

Travel history can lead to detailed patient data, prompt further testing, and spark protective measures for individuals who come into contact with an infected patient.

“Transportation data have been used to simulate the spread of a disease and estimate the effect of local and intercontinental travel restrictions,” the authors explained. “Air, sea, and land transport networks continue to expand in reach, speed of travel, and volume of passengers carried, providing a vector for infectious disease spread.”

EHRs can also integrate with travel history to customize immediate diagnosis for returning travelers, similar to how cardiovascular risk calculators can show the patient a customized list of potential lifestyle changes.

“Prescriptive analytics on outbreak data through algorithms or models can simulate possible outcomes and help answer: ‘what should we do’ when the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of local or international concern,” they continued.

COVID-19 dashboards, such as the one developed by the Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NEHII) and its partners, can connect providers to enhance interoperability and help facilitate COVID-19 data at a fast and effective rate.

“A common way to disseminate data about infections like COVID-19 is through data visualizations and simulated disease models,” the authors wrote. “These data products enable the public, policy makers, and scientists to quickly understand the global spread of COVID-19 at the population level, enabling forecasting at the local level.”

“These examples of data and data product flow across geographic borders are extremely useful to public health professionals for many purposes such as accelerating the pharmaceutical development pipeline, for triaging clinician resources to a locale, and for making decisions about intensive care unit rooms, where to build temporary hospitals (e.g., Boston Hope Medical Center15), or where to boost supplies of personal protection equipment, ventilators, or diagnostic tests,” they continued.

The pandemic has caused health systems to focus on additional challenges outside of data exchange, such as decreasing PPE, expanding ICU capacity, and the impact of reductions in elective procedures.  

“Providing data analytical tools for organizations that cannot share data or have limited analytical resources can also be helpful to help with virus response, better-coordinated care, reporting, and organizational operations,” the authors said.

The ability to utilize EHR data and exchange patient data at a higher rate than usual is vital to lessening the spread of the coronavirus.

“Global data on disease trajectories and the effectiveness and economic impact of different social distancing measures are essential to facilitate effective local responses to pandemics,” wrote the authors. “Policymakers have used these data to inform their decisions regarding travel bans, quarantines, and economic stimulus. To facilitate the dissemination of knowledge regarding COVID-19 during the outbreak, publishers are prioritizing review of and offering free, open access to relevant research findings.”

“Sharing COVID-19 data freely and globally boosts the data economy, enabling quicker dissemination and validation of pharmaceutical innovations, as well as improving knowledge of what prevention and mitigation measures work,” the authors concluded. “Even if physical borders around the globe are closed, it is crucial that data related to COVID-19 continue to transparently flow across borders to enable a data economy to thrive which will promote global public health through global cooperation and solidarity.”