Hundreds of hospitals are gearing up to use doctor's notes about patient symptoms to better track COVID-19's prevalence in their communities.
Providers routinely enter so-called unstructured notes into their electronic medical records to describe their patients' conditions. The consultancy Premier is helping a number of prominent health systems like Geisinger Health System and AdventHealth—a group with more than 400 hospitals total—use artificial intelligence to comb those notes for telltale symptoms of the coronavirus so they can more accurately track its spread and better coordinate their responses.
"A physician tracks what's happening to a patient in the unstructured notes, and that's really, really critical as you think about what we're doing from a surveillance standpoint," said Mike Alkire, president of Premier.
Research has found a high probability of COVID-19 tests generating false negatives early into patients' illnesses. Alkire said that lag time underscores the importance of hospitals having their own way to track COVID-19's prevalence with more accuracy and granularity, such as by zip code. He said Premier's system, which monitors in real time 11 COVID-19 symptoms, such as loss of taste and shortness of breath, could predict a coronavirus surge.
Premier envisions the surveillance system, which will be made available to 400 hospitals this month and next, will be used by local and state governments and even the federal government as they work to stay on top of localized surges. It's currently being rolled out as part of a pilot project.
For Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health, the improved surveillance will not only help the 50-hospital system track COVID-19 across its own facilities, it will help it coordinate its response with municipalities and other health systems, said Dr. Rasu Shrestha, Atrium's chief strategy and transformation officer.
"It's going to connect the dots and really light up the reality of how this virus is affecting not just our patients in the communities we're serving but also in other adjacent areas and the communities in total," he said.
Premier helped many of its hospital clients build their note-tracking capabilities to comply with the federal Protecting Access to Medicare Act. Passed in 2014, PAMA requires more doctors to harness digital tools to review patient information in their EHRs. Alkire said this is just another way to harness the tools hospitals already have in place. The surveillance system is built to work with Epic, Cerner and Athenahealth electronic health record platforms.
Alkire said Premier is in talks with 35 other health systems to potentially adopt the surveillance platform, which systems that don't already use Premier's existing Clinical Decision Support technology would pay Premier to implement.
For Atrium, the surveillance system will help forecast surges and better prepare for what's coming, Shrestha said.
"It's an opportunity for us to, for the first time, have a much more coordinated practice approach to managing this pandemic and anything else that might come down the line," he said.