The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the impact of health informatics into unfamiliar territory.
A disjointed public health response has only highlighted the importance of timely, publicly available data. Take the John Hopkins University (JHU) Center for Systems Science and Engineering's COVID-19 dashboard for example. At first, it was a simple effort to track a new cause of pneumonia in China, but it grew quickly, seeing over one billion hits per day just a few weeks after its creation, as reported by The Lancet. The dashboard was flooded with traffic from the general public looking for information on the pandemic.
Why weren't other systems up to the task? The answer is largely because they struggled at an informatics level, unable to provide timely, open, actionable data at the scale needed. Similar challenges exist across the board in health informatics, slowing opportunities to drive population health, identify care disparities and support clinical research.
In the realm of population health, for example, healthcare organizations are producing enormous amounts of data related to patient admissions, insurance reimbursements and patient outcomes. This type of information is invaluable in supporting decisions in resource allocation and helping clinicians reach conclusions in response to population health trends. But data is only useful if the information is accurate and high quality and supported through programs and protocols that ensure data integrity and shape a complete view of the patient journey.
Even as the pandemic continues to unfold, providers, payers and government agencies still struggle to access critical data that supports vulnerable populations in both crisis and non-crisis scenarios. For example, as of mid-2020, 30% of healthcare organizations struggled "to exchange patient health records with other providers," and one out of every five records were duplicates, according to Fierce Healthcare. They also found that up to 50% of COVID-19 lab reports were "missing key contact information needed to alert individuals to their test results." What's possibly most concerning is that these statistics stand after years of health information initiatives from both the government and private sectors.