Why EHRs may be slowing down COVID-19 vaccinations

The lack of interoperability between EHRs is causing issues for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including scheduling, keeping track of side effects and ensuring doses are being distributed equally, according to Bob Kocher, MD, adjunct professor at Stanford University. 

In a recent interview with NPR, Dr. Kocher, who helped advise the state of California's COVID-19 testing efforts and previously served on a healthcare council in the Obama administration, highlighted the issues with EHRs that are holding back the widespread administration of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

With more than 1,000 different EHR systems in the U.S., and almost every hospital and clinic having a slightly different system customized to its needs, the systems are disconnected and slow down the data-sharing process, Dr. Kocher said. For example, many vaccine distribution sites are using their own electronic systems for scheduling, which makes it difficult for people to find and sign up for appointments. 

The disparate EHR systems can make it difficult for someone to sign up for a second appointment at a different place than where they received their first dose of the vaccine, which may happen in cases of clinics getting too busy or running out of supplies, Dr. Kocher said. 

EHRs are also limiting researchers' efforts to collect data on vaccines, Dr. Kocher said, adding that "We don't know how long protection lasts from the vaccines," and even though the FDA is trying to collect information about adverse reactions, some practitioners are not using the separate portal.

Without a central data management system, it will be hard for researchers to get answers to important questions such as: "Did the vaccine wear off? Was it a different strain? And did they have any side effects?" Dr. Kocher said. 

Many states and counties also want data on race and ethnicity of people who have been vaccinated to ensure the limited supply of shots is reaching harder hit communities equitably, he said. However, not all EHRs collect race and ethnicity data on patients. 

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