COVID-19 Testing Delays Expose Healthcare’s Patient Matching Problem

By Andy Aroditis, CEO, NextGate
Twitter: @NextGate
Twitter: @andyaroditis

While widespread testing is key to safely reopening the economy and easing social distancing restrictions, issues such as accessibility, delayed or missing results, and concerns over accuracy continue to loom nationwide. A recent article published in The District spoke to over two dozen Washington D.C. residents who said that the results of their COVID-19 tests were either lost, damaged, or inconclusive, or that they simply never heard back. Similar instances are being reported elsewhere across the U.S. in cities like Atlanta, Austin, and Tucson.

These testing issues are not only frustrating but downright dangerous. When individuals are missing critical information about the virus, they are unlikely to self-quarantine or modify their behavior. Further, lost or delayed results render contact tracing efforts useless.

Interoperability and Demographic Data Challenges Stifle Testing Efforts
As cases continue to surge across the U.S., commercial labs are struggling to keep up with demand. The steady increase in coronavirus cases has laboratories across the nation falling behind in processing. Currently, around 600,000 tests are processed each day, up from a daily average of nearly 175,000 tests in April.

Lost or lagging test times are also the result of the nation’s disconnected healthcare infrastructure. An article published by the New York Times reports that while testing has greatly expanded over the past few months, health officials and labs lack the technology needed to handle the escalating volume of results. Many lab results “come by phone, email, physical mail or fax, a technology retained because it complies with digital privacy standards for health information. These reports often come in duplicate, go to the wrong health department, or are missing crucial information such as a patient’s phone number or address.”

Contributing to this issue is that basic demographic elements needed to track and manage patients effectively are not being captured. Lack of important demographics such as addresses and phone numbers adds significant administrative burdens and perpetuates delays.

“Nationally, about 80 percent of coronavirus test results are missing demographic information, and half do not have addresses,” according to Janet Hamilton, MPH, Executive Director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE). That is a huge jump from the 40 percent figure she reported back in March.

To identify at-risk populations and those communities in danger of an outbreak, researchers need demographic information on who has been tested and who tests positive. That includes such demographic data as race and ethnicity, which is missing for almost half of reported COVID-19 cases nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The result is an incomplete picture of the pandemic’s impact on people of color, who have been hit particularly hard by the virus.

Tools to Improve Turnaround Times for COVID-19 Testing
The ability to exchange and synchronize demographics across multiple systems and sites of care is a key element in dealing with COVID-19’s testing issues. An Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI) is a highly-effective tool that allows laboratories to facilitate interoperability and automatically match patients to their data at an enterprise level.

BioReference’s investment in our EMPI, for example, is playing a key role to deliver fast, reliable COVID-19 test results. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has performed 222,000 COVID-19 tests and 3,500 antibody tests in over 350 facilities.

As a centralized platform for ensuring demographic data accuracy and bidirectional access to patient information, automated identity matching tools like EMPIs use both probabilistic and deterministic matching algorithms to account for minor variations in demographic data to generate a single best record. Mature and reputable EMPI platforms can boost record matching accuracy as high as 99 percent.

Further, EMPIs augmented with address verification technology, can validate and standardize mailing addresses according to postal standards such as the U.S Postal Service (USPS). NextGate began utilizing this technology as part of our partnership with Loqate two years ago, which has helped us to deliver an even higher degree of patient data and matching accuracy to our customers.

This article was originally published on the NextGate Blog and is republished here with permission.