Apr 29, 2011 (11:04 AM EDT)
Program Links Hospital Labs To Public Health Agencies

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As health delivery organizations continue to computerize medical information, the Lab Interoperability Cooperative (LIC) is recruiting hospitals to participate in a program that will electronically connect hospital laboratories with public health agencies. Establishing this connection will enable hundreds of hospitals to engage in electronic reporting that helps public health officials act more rapidly and efficiently to control disease.

Funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the LIC includes participation from the American Hospital Association (AHA), the College of American Pathologists, and Surescripts. These organizations are encouraging hospitals across the country, including critical access hospitals, to sign up by April 29 at the LIC website.

Anthony Burke, AHA's senior vice president, said that while the level of technology in the hospital lab can vary across institutions, hospital labs are reported to contribute 70% of the data for clinical decision making for electronic health records (EHRs). The initiative is intended to help hospital labs meet criteria established by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology for meaningful use of EHRs.

"We encourage hospitals at every stage of meaningful use adoption to participate. The LIC extends what is the promise of interoperability brought on by meaningful use into the lab environment and out to the public health departments," Burke said in an interview. "With more timely, efficient, and aligned data flowing from hospitals to public health, communities are in a much better position to respond to patterns and trends, including predicting outbreaks of certain diseases such as influenza."

Hospital labs must meet several criteria, including submitting electronic data on reportable laboratory results to public health agencies. During the two-year grant period, the LIC will recruit, educate and connect to the appropriate public health agencies a minimum of 500 hospital labs--at least 100 will be critical access or rural hospitals.

By engaging hospital labs, which handle the majority of lab tests in the United States, the LIC represents a unique opportunity to advance lab interoperability with public health agencies and the nation's health care system overall. The LIC will provide the necessary educational and technical assistance to enable those hospital labs selected to participate in the program to begin electronically transmitting lab results.

Electronic laboratory reporting has many benefits, including improved timeliness of reporting, reduction of manual data entry errors, and reports that are more complete.

"Participating laboratories can expect to see a variety of benefits from participating in the LIC, including LOINC encoding for laboratory data, which provides semantic interoperability and identification of similar data for all downstream end users, such as doctors and health entities," Burke said.

"The LIC hopes to influence hospital facility planning and deployment of resources, create data consistency and standardization and improved accuracy, efficiency, and speed … all of which has a positive impact on our health system's ability to provide the highest quality of care for patients."