Physicians and healthcare systems across the world have been and continue to respond quickly as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread. With limited information, they have had to rapidly share what limited information they have with colleagues. “Managing this outbreak is a multidisciplinary effort that requires strategic planning and rapid mobilization of resources,” explains J. Jeffery Reeves, MD. “Healthcare in the modern era is inseparably integrated with technology and the electronic health record (EHR). As such, my colleagues and I recognized an opportunity to enhance our EHR system and leverage technology to support the clinical management of the outbreak in our region.”

For a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, Dr. Reeves and colleagues established the “Incident Command Center” within their institution’s EHR system to gather data on prior and current cases of COVID-19, in order to help better prepare regions yet to be heavily affected by the pandemic. The Incident Command Center was developed to provide a direct line of communication between healthcare information teams and physicians, through which the study team was able to identify the need for a rapid screening process, automated testing decision guidance, clinical support tools for testing, reporting and analytical tools, and expansion of their telemedicine platform.

“The EHR can be utilized in times of crisis as a tool to disseminate information, offer guidance on rapidly evolving recommendations, and provide real-time, institution-specific data and analytics that can guide evidence-based decision making,” emphasizes Dr. Reeves. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary team approach to medical care and building cohesive systems capable of sustaining unanticipated trials.”

The information-sharing system modeled in this study could help healthcare systems prepare for and manage infectious outbreaks through utilizing technology, establishing multidisciplinary groups, and following ever changing recommendations from federal and global authorities, notes Dr. Reeves. “The EHR and associated technologies are vital and requisite tools in supporting outbreak management that should be leveraged to their full potential,” he adds.

Dr. Reeves still sees gaps in the system that, if filled, could create a more united and cohesive approach to addressing infectious outbreaks like COVID-19. “Methods of data gathering and sharing on a larger scale, across healthcare systems within a region, across regions within a state, and across states within a country would be very useful in tracking and managing a pandemic of the current nature,” he says. “Identifying a way for health systems to securely share patient data in a meaningful and useful fashion is needed. Additionally, improving the telemedicine system, especially for the elderly population, is important.”