As EHRs complicate 'long COVID-19' studies, researchers look elsewhere

To better understand symptoms associated with "long COVID-19," hospitals may need to make large changes to their EHRs, according to an April 14 Politico report.

Ken Mandl, MD, directs the Boston Children's Hospital Computational Health Informatics program. Dr. Mandl told Politico that EHRs don't tell physicians what conditions a patient has. Instead, a provider must manually look into an EHR and interpret the data.

"Wiring up the health system to study post-COVID syndrome" will be a massive undertaking, Dr. Mandl said. "We don't know the extent of it, and how IT needs to change to understand it."

As federal mandates ease restrictions on sharing health data, it could prove an opportunity to use sophisticated software to look for patterns hidden deep in EHRs, he said.

The National Institutes of Health launched a study Feb. 23 to analyze health record data and biological specimens to understand why some people are more vulnerable to long COVID-19. About one-third of the 25,000 study enrollees have already submitted their survey.

In another study, UCSF is testing if wearable devices like FitBits and Apple Watches can detect COVID-19.

However, these studies require patients to disclose their long-term symptoms and use costly monitoring technology. These studies cannot reflect individuals who don't have access to this type of technology.

"Right now you need a very high-end IT team at a hospital to use the electronic health record data," Dr. Mandl said. "It'll be hard to be inclusive across demographics, and to achieve real equity, because of different levels of use of tech, different levels of trust in sharing data and just the difficulty of getting people to use an app."


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