Whether you think the curve is flattening or skyrocketing toward outer space, one thing is for sure: Cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus are already challenging Florida’s health care system and could very well hit crisis mode here soon.
As of the middle of our once-normal workweek, midday on Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health was officially reporting 1,682 confirmed cases and 22 deaths. But according to its own dashboard, the state had only tested 18,289 people — that’s just eight hundredths of a percent of our total population. Hardly enough to say we have a clear idea of what’s really going on.
Without question, this global pandemic has turned American life upside down and will almost surely continue to spread. The real heroes of this battle are right at the front lines: the amazing health care workers who struggle to treat these ill patients even though they have more than one hand tied behind their backs.
In addition to the unforgivable, unimaginable shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, ventilators, and all the rest, these medical professionals are also being asked to work with highly contagious patients without being sure they know everything they need to about the patient’s medical history, which could influence how they treat the patient and how they protect themselves.
A new federal rule would help health care providers share electronic health records (EHR). That process has been hindered by the territorial nature of health information systems, and that’s a problem that won’t disappear overnight. But it turns out there’s a health information exchange system already in place in Florida, and it could hold the key by building bridges between EHRs.
Many of us have had the experience of going to different doctors and finding out they all want to send electronic updates — but they all use different “patient portals” that have to be accessed individually.
A Tallahassee-based company, HIE Networks, knocks down the walls between those various portals by allowing patient records from any participating source to be uploaded and combined into a secure portal, with records specific to each patient, while protecting the patient’s appropriate privacy and other rights. Much like a news aggregator provides easy access to articles from multiple sources, the HIE Networks system compiles records that can then be accessed by medical teams and patients in real time — whatever system the records originated from.
Right now, Florida providers have to rely on the patients themselves to provide an accurate medical history — which may be a challenge for a COVID-19 patient who is having trouble breathing, much less recalling medical procedures from a decade or more ago.
Doctors and other health care providers in the Tallahassee and Bradenton areas have signed up for the HIE Networks approach, and as a result they can access each patient’s records, no matter what type of patient portal each doctor uses — and no matter if those portals usually communicate with each other.
This is just one front, but a most meaningful one, in Florida’s battle against coronavirus. With the virus proving so hard to understand and defeat, we should be grateful for any effective tool we can find.
In this current health care war, saving time in getting accurate patient information to medical professionals who need it equates to also saving lives. That’s surely the most important calculus in this unprecedented and challenging time.