Bottleneck for U.S. Coronavirus Response: The Fax Machine

“It’s $500 versus, literally, $5,000,” mentioned Bob Kocher, a associate on the venture-capital agency Venrock, who has been serving to California handle its coronavirus testing effort.

In the early 2010s, the federal authorities spent billions to encourage docs to interchange fax machines with digital information. That program, often called the HITECH Act, didn’t embody related funding for public well being departments, to assist them routinely digitize faxes and different nonstandard outcomes. Nor did it require hospitals and physician’s places of work to construct expertise that might routinely ship related take a look at outcomes to native well being officers.

Public well being departments, whose budgets have been in the reduction of over the previous decade, have been unable to finance the digital upgrades themselves.

“The best way I can describe it is to imagine you’re on the information super highway, but you’re traveling with a bus pass,” mentioned Oscar Alleyne, chief program pfficer on the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “Money was invested to get physician practices onto electronic health records. There was no investment to build up a similar technology to tie public health into that system.”

The C.D.C. has modernized public well being reporting, however at a smaller scale. In the mid-2010s, the company used $13 million in Affordable Care Act funds to assist state and metropolis well being departments go digital. Although that program made some progress, it didn’t transfer the nation to a very digital public well being reporting system. There have been some smaller one-time grant applications over the previous few years, however no long-term funding supply for digitization.

“What we learned really fast is that this is a hard problem,” mentioned Dr. Frieden, the previous C.D.C. director. “You’ve got hundreds of laboratories and thousands of tests. Nothing is interoperable because they haven’t been mandated to do that.”

Dr. Frieden famous that in different nations, like Britain and Canada, affected person information travels with a singular quantity that identifies whom it belongs to. The United States tried to arrange an identical system within the mid-1990s, nevertheless it died after Congress handed laws barring the federal authorities from creating the brand new ID numbers.

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