Study finds electronic records can help battle vaccine-preventable diseases

A recent study conducted by Columbia University School of Nursing researchers found that using an electronic health record system to automate immunization data allows physicians to help individual patients more effectively.

The researchers analyzed 1.7 million public records submitted by 217 primary care practices to the New York Citywide Immunizations Registry between January 2007 and June 2011, both before and after an EHR automated reporting system was launched. Automated submissions of new and historical records grew by 18 percent and 98 percent, respectively, after the change. Median lag time dropped from 13 days to 10 days.

"The efficiency offered by automation has significant implications for managing public health, whether it is by informing a local physician on the health of an individual or informing policymakers on health trends within a whole community," Jacqueline Merrill, the study's lead researcher, said. "For example, EHRs greatly enhance our ability to help at-risk populations for whom up-to-date immunizations are critical, such as children, immunosuppressed individuals, or the chronically ill. Before automated registries, reporting was less structured and data submittal was less consistent."

The research team determined that the switch to an EHR system reduced paperwork and staff time traditionally devoted to managing required submissions. The system also increased knowledge about individuals and communities, which could allow medical and public health officials to make more informed decisions.

"Automating the process appears very successful," Merrill said. "In fact, it's so successful that we believe it would be beneficial to retrofit data from the past so it can also be included in the EHR."