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Article August 16th, 2021

by Nortal

Mapping the virus: Acceleration through digitalization

The response to COVID-19 needs to match the speed at which the virus is spreading, communication of relevant information being the pivotal factor. Nortal helped Estonian hospitals speed up the notices of contagious disease.

Hospitals using Nortal’s Hospital Information System (HIS) solution can now benefit from electronic notices of a contagious disease diagnosis or suspicion that will move straight to the Estonian National Electronic Health Record System, where it can be retrieved by the National Health Board, other hospitals, and GPs. This speeds up tracking and mapping the outbreak, making it a valuable tool to understand, respond to, and recover from a pandemic.

“Making the notices electronic was the only reasonable step considering the past 18 months and the COVID pandemic,” says Doctor Veronika Reinhard, attending physician in Tartu University clinic’s anesthesiology and intensive care unit. “It is very easy and comfortable to fill in on our HIS. I believe that thanks to this, the requirement to inform the NHB about an infected person has been followed much more. After all, it is very convenient to have all the documents in one place without looking for forms on different web pages or filling them in on paper. Now it just takes one click to send the notice to the Health Record System.” Doctor Reinhard sees a notification system as a next step to inform of patients whose diagnosis requires notifying the Health Board.

Benefiting from information

In Estonia, infectious diseases are monitored by the National Health Board (NHB). More than 55 different contagious diseases require a special notice to be sent to the National Electronic Health Record System when suspected or diagnosed, COVID-19 being one of the main contributors since the outbreak in 2020.

The National Health Board gets data about whether someone has tested positive through the National Electronic Health Record System or straight from the hospitals and laboratories. While the laboratory notices are quite narrow, the notices the hospitals fill out and send to the NHB also contain information about the patient’s background (e.g., places of residence and work, recent travels, possible time and place of contagion, hospitalization) that helps map the spread of the disease.

With the more comprehensive electronic notices, information about the spread of a disease would be near real-time, which can significantly help slow the spread.

From paper to one-click

The contagious disease diagnosis or suspicion notices were previously filled in on paper by hospitals and sent by mail or as a PDF in an e-mail to the NHB, where it was inserted into the system of contagious diseases by hand. The delay in communication that processes on paper create, however, can be consequential in a pandemic.

Digitalization of the notice process makes it easier to create infectious disease notices and collect and share the data about contagious diseases. The notice forms are prefilled with the information already in the Hospital Information System database. The system only asks that the fields relevant to the particular disease be filled in and only displays the laboratory test results of the specific disease when attaching the confirmation file, saving the hospital staff valuable time.

The data from the notices is standardized, making them machine-readable, which leads to more efficient and faster processes and minimizes human error.

The system uses international standards and terminology (i.e., HL7 CDA, SNOMED, ICD-10), which enables future cross-border data exchange – a feature that the COVID-19 border crossing pandemic has shown to be most necessary.

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