By Dan Cidon
The race to rollout a COVID-19 vaccine presents a number of challenges, from safety and efficacy, to storage and distribution. Once a vaccine is approved, the industry must have a robust strategy in place to manage coronavirus immunizations effectively. That means patients will have to be accurately identified and consistently matched to their health records so providers can track who has received a vaccine and who hasn’t.
The issue of patient identification becomes even more complex as a number of vaccines enter the market at the same time; each with their own set of schedules for administering. Many will require more than one dose. Multiple doses and different vaccines not only pose logistical concerns, but serious health and safety implications as well.
For example: A patient receives their first immunization shot at their local CVS pharmacy. A month later, when it’s time for their second dose, they visit their primary care doctor. The physician’s office will need to know exactly which vaccine the patient received and when. That requires accurate, up-to-date patient records in an organization’s EHR or a state’s immunization registry.
To complicate matters, thousands of retirees and snowbirds travel south every winter to their second homes in states like Florida and South Carolina. If the vaccination becomes available in the fall, those individuals would likely get their first vaccination in their home state and their second one in an another.
Poor patient matching and identification have already hindered our nation’s public health response to the pandemic. Contact tracing and testing efforts have been notoriously stalled because basic demographic elements like phone numbers and addresses to identify and communicate with patients are not being captured. Research from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) finds that nationally, about 80 percent of coronavirus test results are missing critical demographic information and 50 percent are missing addresses. Further, some laboratories routinely input the ordering provider’s phone number instead of the patient’s, while others don’t supply a phone number at all.
Cause for Concern
Immunizing the U.S. population against COVID-19 will be the single largest vaccination rollout ever initiated. Any errors in administering the vaccine could be catastrophic: individuals receiving too many doses, not enough, or a community cleared to lift restrictions and resume normal activities before it’s been fully immunized.
This kind of certainty when identifying patients can only be realized with the right technology and data governance practices in place.
Technology to Advance Nationwide Vaccination Efforts
As the administration’s Operation Warp Speed aims to deliver 300 million doses by January 2021, tracking individuals, their health histories, and their COVID-19 vaccinations will be an enormous undertaking.
Strict data governance protocols for collecting patient information, in combination with proven tools as Enterprise Master Patient Indexes (EMPIs) for standardizing and linking demographic data, will be a significant advantage for managing vaccinations efficiently. A unifying identifier employed by the EMPI safeguards patient data quality and automates demographic matching to compare records in real-time between disparate sources.
An EMPI can play a key role in supporting large-scale immunizations by:
- Ensuring the right individual receives the right vaccination at the right time through consistent patient identification and a comprehensive view of the individual’s vaccination history;
- Facilitating the exchange of information among a wide range of care participants to empower clinicians, pharmacists and public health officials with the most up-to-date vaccination information;
- Unifying immunization and related patient data across a myriad of systems, locations and populations to identify gaps in vaccination coverage, and identify adverse side effects or events; and
- Enabling a better vaccination experience for patients.
Amid a potential surge of patients, knowing when an individual was vaccinated, which vaccine he or she received, and any reported side effects will be critical to ensure Americans receive safe, timely and appropriate immunizations.
Robust patient identification tools like EMPIs that uniformly orchestrate patient data across the spectrum of care can serve as a critical piece of infrastructure to track broadly administered immunizations accurately and competently.
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