How hundreds of hospitals are teaming up within their states to tackle COVID-19 data silos

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The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited a collaborative approach to patient care, as more hospitals and health systems are teaming up statewide to create digital dashboards and data exchanges to efficiently distribute resources and prepare for patient surges.

In April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to merge the state's 200 hospitals into a single digital system to oversee the movement of staff and medical resources such as personal protective equipment. New York City-based Stony Brook University assistant CMO Peter Viccellio, MD, told Vox at the time that such collaboration is vital during this pandemic, as many hospitals were facing equipment shortages.

"If hospital A has resources and hospital B doesn't, it's in the best interest of the patient that hospital A and B work together. Protective equipment should be available to all healthcare providers, not just those who work at a place with a better procurement officer," Dr. Viccellio said.

Other states, hospitals follow New York's lead

In Florida, a group of 51 hospitals including Tampa General Hospital and Advent Health teamed up in May to form a joint interactive dashboard that shares COVID-19 clinical data. The COVID-19 Florida West Coast Regional Data Exchange displays real-time data from the participating hospitals, such as how many patients are being treated for COVID-19 and resources available at each hospital including the number of intensive care unit rooms and ventilator counts. 

Peter Chang, MD, vice president of care transitions and chief medical informatics officer at Tampa General Hospital, told Becker's Hospital Review that the data exchange is helping the hospitals load balance COVID-19 patient capacity in addition to supplies.

"The most remarkable thing about this data exchange is that it's a collaboration with our competitors," Dr. Chang said. "We stand as a united front to address the community's needs regarding COVID-19. We're collaborating, not competing."

The magnitude and scale of the data exchange is a type of collaboration effort that Dr. Chang said he has yet to be a part of through the course of his career. By teaming up, Tampa General Hospital and the other participating organizations have been able to monitor outbreaks of the disease so no particular hospital would be overwhelmed by increased patient capacity.

Shortly after COVID-19 arrived in Indiana in March, the state's health department and hospitals including Indiana University Health formed a collaborative group of data and informatics experts to help navigate hospitalizations. The stakeholders developed a COVID-19 dashboard that tracks hospitalizations across the state in near real time, including information on patient length of stays and fatality rates.

"At times of crisis like this, we often see the best of humanity on display," said Peter Embí, MD, associate dean for informatics and health services research at IU School of Medicine and vice president for learning health systems at IU Health.

Dr. Embí also serves as president and CEO of the Regenstrief Institute, an Indianapolis-based research center that focuses on health IT and innovation. Having formed the statewide data sharing effort, the Regenstrief Institute, along with the project's other participating organizations, were able to strengthen Indiana's COVID-19 situational awareness and better coordinate collective responses among hospitals and the state health department. 

Streamlining data on healthcare-related events such as hospitalization risks of comorbidities and tracking regional patterns helps inform healthcare providers and health systems of what to expect when treating patients during the pandemic.

Lessons learned and advice for other hospital IT leaders

While there is potential for future waves of the pandemic, Dr. Chang's advice for other hospitals considering forming COVID-19 data exchanges is to keep the process simple and focus only on key data: "You don't want to only look at the lab tests, but you also don't need a ton of data fields," Dr. Chang said. "Think through the information that would truly be helpful for your partners in the exchange to have."

In addition to a statewide health information exchange, Indiana's experience proved that applying informatics and analytics expertise is essential for creating state-specific COVID-19 data exchanges, according to Dr. Embí.

"Access to consistent, current and high-quality data is fundamental. In addition, it is clear that having experts with a deep understanding of what those data mean in a medical and public health context is key to fully reap the benefits of such an infrastructure," he said.


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