As the volume of data coming in to public health agencies from EHRs continues to increase, the technical and administrative infrastructure must be built to receive the data.

That’s a core finding in a new issue brief from the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT, timed for release during this week’s Public Health Informatics Conference in Atlanta. 

The challenge is that the increasing use of EHRs to collect data is spurring more real-time data collection and public health agencies are working to build the infrastructure to support more frequent data feeds, according to the ONC document.

Authored by Lauren Wu, a policy analyst in ONC’s Office of Policy and Planning, the brief details how public health departments use collected data from providers to understand diseases in communities around the country and to develop responses more quickly and efficiently. For instance, in 2005, only eight states could accept lab results electronically. However, as of January 2014, 48 states can receive labs electronically. In addition, more than 1,800 provider sites nationwide have updated their EHRs to electronically send immunization data to registries, which helps them to give the right vaccines at the right time. 

Nevertheless, Wu acknowledges that the "utility of EHR data for supplemental purposes such as public health reporting, research, patient-safety event reporting, and coverage determination has been limited due to lack of uniformity in the terminology and definitions of data elements across EHRs." Another problem is that clinicians often report information in unstructured free text. Linking EHR data with other data in a uniform and structured way could improve population health, safety, quality and research, she adds.

Consequently, a group was formed last year within the government’s Standards & Interoperability Framework initiative--comprising industry stakeholders tackling interoperability challenges--to work on these issues. Called the Public Health Tiger Team, the group is identifying public use cases, developing and consolidating common data elements and building metadata that can be used to pre-populate forms in EHRs.

Now, the Tiger Team will merge with the Public Health Reporting Initiative, part of the S&I Framework, whose goal is to harmonize HIT standards and implementation guides for interoperable bi-directional communication between clinical care and public health entities for different types of public health reporting.

More information is available here.

Originally published by Health Data Management.