How telemedicine companies are using interoperability to manage COVID-19

As industries and organizations assess the impact of COVID-19, one thing is abundantly clear: telemedicine is here to stay. If you want to see a doctor right now, chances are it will happen over video or phone. A growing number of providers are working with telemedicine companies to provide all of their virtual care needs, like K Health, Heal, WellVia, and many others. These organizations provide physicians with the clinical interface and tools they need to treat patients remotely, like appointment scheduling and video or texting interfaces.

But with the progress in nationwide interoperability, many telemedicine companies are beginning to offer new clinical capabilities to providers that tap the modern infrastructure we’ve built to exchange clinical data. I wanted to share several emerging use-cases that we’re seeing among telemedicine developers.

Telemedicine providers need the ability to place lab orders electronically and view test results. This is a fundamental clinical workflow for primary care providers, and especially important as we increase testing for COVID-19. Most telemedicine companies don’t use commercial EHRs and instead prefer to build software that suits the needs of their provider users. In order to offer lab functionality, they leverage APIs to electronically communicate with the lab, and embed ordering and resulting into their products. This makes hundreds of labs accessible to these providers, including national labs like LabCorp, Quest, and BioReference. When a provider places the order, the patient can go to any LabCorp location to have the test performed. Virta Health has made tracking lab values a critical part of their virtual diabetes platform, allowing them to monitor A1C levels over time for every patient.

In addition to labs, providers need an easier way to access and retrieve their patient’s medical records. The old way of getting records was to ask the patient for a list of their providers, call them up, fax a signed patient consent form, and get records back through the fax machine. The new way is to do a quick search on our national network and collect a comprehensive set of records electronically and instantaneously. Most major EMRs participate in this network and allow providers to collect their patients' records for treatment purposes from over 600,000 care providers. By integrating with the API, telemedicine companies are giving their provider users access to the patient’s past encounters, procedures, medications, and other critical information, all without the administrative hassle. This information gives providers the context they need to deliver informed, data-driven care for every patient.

In light of COVID-19, a majority of outpatient clinical interactions have shifted to telemedicine, sparking developers to rapidly innovate their products. In the past month, we’ve seen a rapid update and reliance on the interoperability networks we’ve helped to build, as providers find easier ways to access data while remote. Several years ago, we partnered with health information exchanges like CommonWell Health Alliance and Carequality, which brought together major EMRs to share data with providers who need it. By making data from over 60,000 care sites and a majority of diagnostic labs available through an API, telemedicine developers don’t need to go through the pain of 6 month-long HL7 integrations. They can get up and running in weeks with clinical functionality that was not possible just a few years ago.

The benefits of our interoperable data network also extend to public health agencies, who need to access comprehensive clinical data when investigating new COVID-19 cases. Information like patient demographics, comorbidities, and medications are not easily accessible to public health departments, and typically involve calling individual providers to fax their medical records or asking hospitals for their EHR log-in credentials. Earlier this week, Farzad Mostashari, MD, CEO of Aledade, Inc. and former National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) at the Department of Health and Human Services, and Mark McClellan, MD, Ph.D., former FDA Commissioner and Founding Director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, authored a report titled "Data Interoperability and Exchange to Support COVID-19 Containment”, where they recommended that public health agencies work with Health Gorilla to connect to trusted health information exchanges. We’ve been solving this problem for digital health developers for the past few years, and look forward to bringing these innovations to local and state health departments.

This modern interoperability infrastructure took years to build and involved hundreds of organizations in the healthcare ecosystem, with much of the progress sparked by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. In times like these, the benefits of interoperability become apparent - more data leads to more informed treatment and better system-wide tracking of this deadly virus. We’re glad to see these efforts prove useful for developers, hospitals, and health departments in the fight against COVID-19.