The spread of COVID-19 has given health organizations the ultimate stress test over the last two-plus months. Clinician EHR use has been instrumental in overcoming that challenge.
Between building field hospitals and wiring EHR systems at no cost to decrease hospital populations, or putting together surge capacity recommendations to help providers prepare for the spike in patients, the EHR community has broadened its impact to more than just EHR implementation during this time.
EHR vendors and organizations have stepped up to help curb the coronavirus by making telehealth a mainstream option, enhancing EHR data access by way of analytics, and collaborating to develop detailed COVID-19 dashboards.
Increasing The Use of Telehealth
Throughout the spread of the COVID-19, telehealth implementation has skyrocketed due to the overcrowding of hospitals and the immense need of social distancing to help limit the spread of the virus.
In a survey of over 2,000 individuals by Sykes Enterprises, roughly three-quarters of the respondents said they would utilize telehealth treatment if they experience coronavirus symptoms. Of the 20 percent who have tried telehealth, almost 60 percent have used it more than once, and almost 37 percent said they would try it again.
A 2019 survey by J.D. Power found that telehealth has a higher satisfaction rate than other healthcare options.
According to Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, Epic Systems has helped over 200 of its clients implement a telehealth system in less than a month.
“One such rapid response is telemedicine, which was a remote curiosity for most patients — and even some practitioners — until COVID-19 hit,” Still said. “Today, millions of consultations are taking place virtually, many of them on Epic platforms that were underused in the past.”
More than half of primary care visits are being done virtually, compared to just single-digit percentages in early March, he noted.
“Through telehealth, we’re seeing patients in their homes, meeting their families, seeing the art on their walls, learning about the things they care about most… I thought telehealth would remove the human aspect, but it actually enhanced it,” an anonymous Pennsylvania physician said to Still.
Telehealth services in patient portals have also eased the overcrowding in hospitals.
If a patient has the ability to get triaged at home, that is one less patient that has to be seen in person.
Enhancing Data Access Using Analytics
The pandemic has caused health systems to focus on the challenges that come from the coronavirus, such as dwindling PPE, expanding ICU capacity, and the impact of reductions in elective procedures. These issues have largely stemmed from the fact that COVID-19 posed an unprecedented challenge that caught much of the industry underprepared.
“I think health care groups around the world will show more interest in really using the capabilities around data analytics,” said Brent Shafer, chairman and CEO of Cerner, in an emailed statement to EHRIntelligence. “So that they can then anticipate what’s coming, anticipate the needs, and look at the health of populations in a more organized way than we have in the past.”
Nuvance Health in Lagrangeville, NY, is using a data analytics tool to filter and identify COVID-19 patients.
“The tool’s user-friendly layout with listings by solution makes it easy for us to stay updated on critical features as we try to handle the rapid demands of this pandemic,” Melinda Heady, RN, Nuvance Health, said in a statement.
With the increase of telehealth, the tool also offers an analysis of telehealth visit volumes and duration so the provider can gauge the demand for telehealth across health systems and facilities.
Implementing EHR Dashboards
In order to track COVID-19 and make an efficient response using EHR data, researchers have developed COVID-19 EHR dashboards to implement into the EHR.
The Regenstrief Institute partnered with health organizations and health information exchanges across Indiana to gather COVID-19 patient data in an effort to enhance patient care.
Using this data, the state’s leaders are able to learn more about the potential hot spots and surges across Indiana.
“This data is a key component to helping state leaders make critical decisions at crucial times during this crisis. The expertise and resources of our partners brought this concept to fruition,” said Connor Norwood, PhD, chief data officer for FSSA and data leader for Indiana’s COVID-19 response team.
When a natural disaster or a pandemic hits a rural area, such as parts of Indiana, data interoperability is key to maintaining patient care. The collaboration of these organizations gives access to most of the state’s health systems and laboratories, which is critical for promoting health data exchange.
Now that a majority of Indiana’s health systems are connected on one EHR platform, officials can make predictions about the spread of the coronavirus and identify patterns.
The dashboard uses tools from the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE), which manages the Indiana Network for Patient Care, the nation’s largest interorganizational clinical data repository.
Although some initially said that interoperability and EHRs would be a burden during the coronavirus, vendors and health organizations have found a way to optimize their technology to be an asset.
“There are limits, of course, on who can access virtual medicine and when — sometimes tied to the ‘digital divide’ or economic hardship,” Still, the Wisconsin Technology Council president, concluded. “For many people, however, electronic health tools may be a way to fight back against COVID-19.”