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HHS to Award Funding to Boost Immunization Information Systems, HIEs

HHS will allocate upwards of $20 million in investments to increase patient data sharing between immunization information systems and health information exchanges (HIEs).

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced it will distribute funds across the country to enhance patient data sharing between health information exchanges (HIEs) and immunization information systems.

Under the Strengthening the Technical Advancement and Readiness of Public Health Agencies via Health Information Exchange (STAR HIE) Program, each recipient aims to boost HIE services and specifically vaccination services. As a result, their respective connected public health agencies can exchange, access, and utilize crucial patient data during public health emergencies. 

Additionally, it aims to support communities that were hit hard by COVID-19.

Through this program, HHS can help public health agencies track and identify patients who need a second COVID-19 vaccination and also identify high-risk individuals who need a vaccination. STAR HIE also intends to provide statistics to measure vaccination outcomes, the agency noted.

On top of these distributions, ONC said it will award funds to both the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the Colorado Regional Health Information Organization (CORHIO) to boost HIE immunization collaborations.

HHS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) will allocate roughly $20 million in funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act, which was signed by President Trump in late March, aims to support the country’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“These CARES Act funds will allow clinicians to better access information about their patients from their community immunization registries by using the resources of their local health information exchanges,” Don Rucker, MD, national coordinator for health information technology, said in a statement.

“Through these collaborative efforts public health agencies and clinicians will be better equipped to more effectively administer immunizations to at-risk patients, understand adverse events, and better track long-term health outcomes as more Americans are vaccinated.”

Accurate patient data and health information exchange are both crucial to deploying an effective vaccination strategy. Providers must know if a patient has received one or two vaccinations to allow for a coordinated rollout.

Accurate patient matching ensures the correct patient will get the correct vaccine and the patient will get two doses. The success of both will rely on providers, public health officials, and pharmacists having access to patient data, including vaccine records from databases.

Adequate data exchange and matching can also offer increased insight into long-term health outcomes and any potential adverse effects of the vaccine.  

According to HHS, there are currently 63 immunization information systems across the country. There are eight in territories, five in major cities, and one in each state. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) fund both immunization information systems.

Last week, several health IT vendors, organizations, and stakeholders, including Epic Systems and Cerner, announced the formation of the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI).

This initiative aims to give individuals digital access to their COVID-19 vaccination records.

The VCI is made up of CARIN Alliance, Cerner, Change Healthcare, The Commons Project Foundation, Epic Systems, Evernorth, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, MITRE, Oracle, Safe Health, and Salesforce.

The group is in the process of developing a standard model for health organizations administering the COVID-19 vaccine. The effort aims to make the results available to individuals in an interoperable and accessible digital format.

Currently, the digitized vaccination record system does not streamline the control, distribution, or access to vaccination records.

The coalition is working together to develop a safe and secure way for individuals to access their COVID-19 vaccination records through open, interoperable SMART Health Cards specification, based on W3C Verifiable Credential and HL7 FHIR standards.

Digitalizing these documents can enhance patient matching and expedite the time it will take for individuals to return to work, school, traveling, and extracurricular activities.

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