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Pew Focuses Health IT Efforts on Public Health Data Sharing

After working to support policies for enhanced health IT use, Pew is looking to improve data sharing between providers and state public health agencies.

Pew Charitable Trusts is working to improve health IT infrastructure for data sharing between healthcare providers and state public health agencies.

“As COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, the health system’s patchwork IT infrastructure and policies can endanger public health,” Kathy Talkington, director of health programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts, wrote in an article.

In November 2021, CMS finalized policies requiring healthcare providers who treat Medicare patients to share more health data with public health agencies. The agency encouraged hospitals to take similar action in August 2022.

“Now, it’s up to state regulators and ONC to further increase the sharing of data that is essential to prevent the spread of disease, curb chronic illness, and enable everyone to be as healthy as possible,” Talkington said.

Over the past six years, Pew has focused on enhancing EHR use to improve patient care.

Informed by research that Pew commissioned, in 2021, ONC updated the US Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI), a set of data that all EHRs must be able to share. The updates made in 2021 included social determinants of health (SDOH) data which can help improve care for marginalized patients.

Additionally, urged by Pew and others, ONC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also required health IT developers and healthcare providers to use application programming interfaces (APIs) to improve interoperability.

“Just as travel websites use APIs to aggregate data from various airlines and hotels, EHR systems can use them to gather data from different facilities,” Talkington said. “The technology can also enable patients to share their medical records with caregivers, which then helps clinicians make the right treatment decisions.”

Pew has also worked to improve patient safety by advocating for policies enabling healthcare stakeholders to track potentially harmful products and ensure EHRs are not contributing to medical errors.

For instance, Pew worked with the American National Standards Institute to recommend that regulators require that insurance forms include a unique identifier for implanted medical devices like artificial hips and cardiac stents.

“Once the recommendation is fully implemented, the resulting data will help the US Food and Drug Administration, clinicians, hospitals, and patients better understand the long-term safety of medical implants,” Talkington said.

“This will help protect millions of people from potentially harmful devices and save billions of dollars; between 2004 and 2014, problems with just seven cardiac implants cost Medicare $1.5 billion and patients $140 million,” she added.

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