By Katherine Lusk, MHSM, RHIA, FAHIMA
The past year has been difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted lives in many ways. It has also highlighted the need for trusted data in support of clinical delivery, public health, and research—and the intersection of administrative, clinical, and business data.
The entire healthcare ecosystem in the US was already undergoing waves of change when the tsunami of the pandemic hit, bringing with it a sense of urgency that magnified issues 100 times over. The early preparation AHIMA had undertaken to realign to meet market changes prior to the pandemic allows us to immediately take the lead for our members with information on disaster preparedness, virtual health documentation requirements, and coding and classification guidelines related to COVID-19.
We know that the world is smaller than it used to be. COVID-19 impacted the entire world and made us all realize the expansive reach and relevance of trusted data. The pandemic illustrated the importance and value of health data on a global level. Across the world, looking at data from China to Spain, Italy, and Australia, governments were trying to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. How was the disease spreading? Who was most likely to get sick? Were there additional risk factors? How did social determinants of health play a part? All of these are important questions in the research that will bring a stop to this pandemic. As “trusted global health information brokers,” health information professionals manage the data that is essential in finding a resolution for this current crisis.
One of the greatest joys in my life has been working to support trusted data that freely flows through the healthcare ecosystem. This work has enabled me to:
- Connect people to their clinical information, regardless of how they need to access it, where it is located, or who originally created it
- Make sure immunization and medication data is accurate and available
- Make sure that COVID-19 reporting to public health is accurate and occurs in a timely manner
- Make sure that laboratory data from other organizations is incorporated into electronic health records for clinical decision support
The opportunity to make a difference with this work is what inspires me every day. And I know that it inspires you as well.
Like other professionals in healthcare, we are motivated by the people we serve. We use our interest in data and attention to detail to enhance the lives of others around us, ensuring that patients’ healthcare experience is as positive and successful as possible.
Health information is complex. It is nuanced, ever-changing, and deeply personal. Because of its uniquely human characteristics, its proper management requires a diverse range of expertise and a deep understanding of a space that is in constant evolution. A trusted advisor with subject matter expertise is imperative to understand and translate the nuances to different users.
Our profession sees the connection between data and a person. Operating at the intersection of healthcare, business, and technology provides a uniquely comprehensive perspective that benefits other professional communities. We see the person in front of the data and understand the value of ensuring they remain considered and connected to their information at every touchpoint.
On a personal note, in 2020 my brother had a heart attack and was treated at three different healthcare systems. We learned first-hand, as I am sure many of you have, the value of an organization that was committed to data integrity and sharing of clinical information electronically. While bedside care at two organizations was remarkably similar, there was one big differentiator: trusted data exchange. One healthcare system freely shared clinical information electronically throughout its system and the data was accurate. He decided that it was safer for an individual with a heart condition to continue to be treated in a system that could and did share accurate clinical information electronically. He continued his care at the system where his clinical information was immediately available, and referrals were completed easily due to a complete and accurate provider data base. While my brother may not have known the phrase “trusted data,” he clearly understood attention to detail and access. They planned for my brother! Thankfully, it has not been often that my life work has been important to my family… but this time it was.
Healthcare, our organizations, our profession, and our peers are all counting on our deep subject matter expertise, best practices, and professional integrity as trusted brokers of clinical data. Our reputation of 90-plus years of supporting healthcare delivery through accurate and complete clinical data clearly establishes us a “trusted data brokers.” The world is counting on our expertise, our guidance, and our nudge.
A seamless flow of trusted data supports clinical care, business operations, and research. As health information management professionals, we understand that an important tool to accurately identify patients is the use of a naming policy. A naming policy provides a structured way to collect patient demographics in health information systems. A naming policy that when adopted, will help bridge the gap in patient mismatches and promote better interoperability and sharing of health data. I am positive the health information management leaders in the healthcare system that my brother chose to affiliate with understood this principle.
I am going to ask each one of you to pledge to advocate and educate members and other key stakeholders on the importance of naming policies. Sharing this information will help ensure data is available for clinical care when needed.
My goal as I write this column will be to celebrate the great work completed by health information management professionals and allow everyone the opportunity to lean into these learnings and promote best practices.
A small nudge by many people makes a difference, let us be that nudge for healthcare. Please join me in taking the Naming Policy Pledge!
Click the link to take the pledge: https://www.ahima.org/advocacy/take-action/take-action-forms/take-action-ahima-naming-policy-pledge/
Katherine Lusk (Katherine.Lusk@ahima.org) is the senior director for strategic relationships for the Texas Health Services Authority.