Identifying Opportunities to Strengthen the Public Health Informatics Infrastructure: Exploring Hospitals’ Challenges with Data Exchange

Original Scholarship
Public Health

Policy Points:

  • Even though most hospitals have the technological ability to exchange data with public health agencies, the majority continue to experience challenges.
  • Most challenges are attributable to the general resources of public health agencies, although workforce limitations, technology issues such as a lack of data standards, and policy uncertainty around reporting requirements also remain prominent issues.
  • Ongoing funding to support the adoption of technology and strengthen the development of the health informatics workforce, combined with revising the promotion of the interoperability scoring approach, will likely help improve the exchange of electronic data between hospitals and public health agencies.

Context: The novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted significant barriers in the exchange of essential information between hospitals and local public health agencies. Thus it remains important to clarify the specific issues that hospitals may face in reporting to public health agencies to inform focused approaches to improve the information exchange for the current pandemic as well as ongoing public health activities and population health management.

Methods: This study uses cross-sectional data of acute-care, nonfederal hospitals from the 2017 American Hospital Association Annual Survey and Information Technology supplement. Guided by the technology-organization-environment framework, we coded the responses to a question regarding the challenges that hospitals face in submitting data to public health agencies by using content analysis according to the type of challenge (i.e., technology, organization, or environment), responsible entity (i.e., hospital, public health agency, vendor, multiple), and the specific issue described. We used multivariable logistic and multinomial regression to identify characteristics of hospitals associated with experiencing the types of challenges.

Findings: Our findings show that of the 2,794 hospitals in our analysis, 1,696 (61%) reported experiencing at least one challenge in reporting health data to a public health agency. Organizational issues were the most frequently reported type of challenge, noted by 1,455 hospitals. The most common specific issue, reported by 1,117 hospitals, was the general resources of public health agencies. An advanced EHR system and participation in a health information exchange both decreased the likelihood of not reporting experiencing a challenge and increased the likelihood of reporting an organizational challenge.

Conclusions: Our findings inform policy recommendations such as improving data standards, increasing funding for public health agencies to improve their technological capabilities, offering workforce training programs, and increasing clarity of policy specifications and reporting. These approaches can improve the exchange of information between hospitals and public health agencies.

Keywords: hospital, public health departments, health information technology, interoperability, electronic lab reporting, registry, immunization registry.


Read on Wiley Online Library

Walker DM, Yeager VA, Lawrence J, McAlearney AS. Identifying Opportunities to Strengthen the Public Health Informatics Infrastructure: Exploring Hospitals' Challenges with Data Exchange. Milbank Q. 2021;99(2):393-425.