All levels of public health, from the local level to the national level, struggle to obtain timely, accurate, and actionable information from electronic health records. The current data environment too often relies on cumbersome, non-electronic methods for data exchange that can pull frontline public health officials and clinicians away from essential work and result in data omission and errors. Although methods for electronic data collection are available, several still cannot be implemented at scale without significant effort.
What is added by this report?
Important progress has been made over the last decade to standardize the exchange of health data. Modern data standards and technologies are evolving at faster rates and are designed to promote data liquidity as called for in the 21st Century Cures Act. To fulfill the requirements of this Act, federal regulators have established a common and consistent set of expectations regarding what data elements will be structured and made widely available. The policy and technical specifications are now being solidified to simplify the process of requesting and exchanging data across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. This will result in an enhanced data environment that is set to become a reality by the end of 2022.
What are the implications for public health practice?
The standardization and baseline capabilities that are coming into play over the next two years present an opportunity for public health to access richer data to drive decision making and inform the public more quickly and with greater precision. If architected appropriately, data modernization efforts supported by CDC could reuse and extend capabilities that already exist (such as health information exchanges) and that will soon exist (such as core data elements and standard application programming interfaces for accessing health data nationwide) instead of operating and maintaining a set of one-off, niche-specific systems used to report data to public health.
This more unified and modern approach could help to provide state and local public health departments access to well-processed and up-to-date information, which could be de-identified and rolled up to national-level data requestors more seamlessly to drive federal policy making. These scalable, non-proprietary tools and approaches to interoperability could help provide useful and actionable data to accommodate various levels of information sharing while addressing long-standing, cross-cutting public health data challenges in a sustainable manner.