Doctors, public health agencies exchanging more information electronically

Immunization data is the most traded as numbers increased in 2019.

An increasing number of primary care physicians (PCPs) shared medical information electronically with public health agencies (PHAs) in the year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also began recording more data on behavioral and social determinants of patient health, according to the survey examining electronic communications between physicians and PHAs, published by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed significant gaps in the public health infrastructure needed to support the electronic exchange of public health data between health care providers and PHAs,” said the report released by the Office of the National Health Information Technology Coordinator.

The data is important for at least two reasons: public health surveillance and identifying populations that need more assistance due to social and behavioral determinants of health, the report said.

The researchers noted that the study did not cover overall reporting rates to PHAs, and other recent studies showed that PCPs report to PHAs through the exchange of paper data, phone calls, emails and facsimile machines.

Commercial data

Fewer than one in five PCPs sent or received health information electronically with PHAs. For all physicians, 12% exchanged information electronically with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state or local health authorities.

Rates were higher or equal in pediatrics (26%), internal medicine (24%), primary care (18%) and general/family medicine (12%). In those fields, at least 46 percent said they don’t exchange information electronically, and at least 22 percent of doctors said they didn’t know if they did, the report found.

Looking for vaccinations

Nationally, 44% of PCPs reported seeking vaccination or immunization records from sources outside of their own healthcare organizations. The percentages increased for internists (53%) and pediatricians (51%), compared to 41% for general/family practice PCPs.

Immunization data sharing was most common for all primary care physicians (90%), pediatricians (100%), internal medicine physicians (82%), and general or family physicians (89%) . According to the report, the various doctors exchanged data from case reports, public health registry data and syndromic surveillance data.

Practice size

PCPs in larger practices, those in hospital or health center practices, and those who were able to send and receive patient data electronically were significantly more likely to exchange information with PHAs. According to the report, those who shared data with PHAs and those who sought vaccination or immunization information from outside sources were significantly more likely to electronically record social and behavioral determinants of health.

The majority of physicians (69%) electronically recorded data on social factors and determinants of health, such as employment, education, and the social and community context that affect health outcomes and quality of life. For health behavior determinants such as alcohol and tobacco use and physical activity, 84% of physicians recorded data electronically.

Primary care physicians were significantly more likely to electronically record social and behavioral determinants of health, compared to specialists. According to the report, physicians using EHR developers in the top five for market share had the highest rates of electronic patient data sharing and recording, compared to those using EHR developers without a top 10 market share.

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