Doctors, public health agencies share more information electronically

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

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

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

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed 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 Coordinator for Health Information Technology .

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

The researchers note that the study did not capture the overall reporting rate to PHAs, and other recent studies have shown that PCPs report to PHAs by sharing data on paper, phone calls, emails and fax machines.

Trading data

Fewer than one in five PCPs electronically send or receive health information with a PHA. Of all physicians, 12% have electronically exchanged information with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state or local health authorities.

Percentages were higher or equal for pediatrics (26%), internal medicine (24%), primary care (18%), and general/family practice (12%). In those areas, at least 46 percent said they don’t share information electronically, and at least 22 percent of doctors said they don’t know if they do, according to the report.

Search for vaccinations

Nationally, 44% of PCPs report seeking vaccination or immunization history from sources outside of their own health care organizations. The percentages increased for internists (53%) and pediatricians (51%), compared to 41% of general/family physicians.

Sharing immunization records was most common among all primary care physicians (90%), pediatricians (100%), internal medicine physicians (82%), and general or family practice (89%). Case reporting data, public health registry data and syndromic surveillance data were exchanged at lower rates from different doctors, the report said.

Practice size

PCPs in larger practices, those in hospital- or health center-owned practices, and those able to send and receive patient data electronically were significantly more likely to share information with PHAs. Those who exchanged data with a PHA 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 report said.

Most physicians (69%) electronically recorded data on social and health determinants such as employment, education, and social and community contexts that influence health and quality of life. For behavioral determinants of health, such as alcohol and tobacco use and physical activity, 84% of physicians record data electronically.

Primary care physicians were significantly more likely to electronically record social and behavioral determinants of health than specialists. Physicians using EHR developers in the top 5 by market share had the highest rates of sharing and recording patient data electronically, compared to those using EHR developers without a top 10 market share, the report said .

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