SSG Blog

Mastering Interoperability in State Immunization Registries

Posted on December 1st, 2023   |   SSG

In healthcare data management, interoperability plays a critical role in ensuring efficient, accurate, and unified information exchange. However, the fragmented nature of healthcare data systems poses significant challenges to achieving interoperability, particularly between state immunization registries (SIR) and healthcare providers across the country. 

Below, we discuss interoperability in SIRs, its primary challenges, and the potential pathways towards seamless and timely data exchange. 

What is interoperability in the context of state immunization registries?

Interoperability in SIRs refers to the ability of different information systems to effectively communicate and exchange immunization data across various healthcare systems, platforms, and providers within a state or region. When done correctly, interoperability enhances public health data management, enabling healthcare providers to access complete and accurate health department vaccination records, regardless of their origin. 

Why is interoperability important for state immunization registries?

When the right information can be promptly shared and accessed, public health agencies and healthcare providers can:

  • Ensure Vaccination Coverage: Access to accurate and up-to-date records is critical to immunization outreach efforts, monitoring vaccination coverage rates, and identifying gaps in vaccination schedules. 
  • Prevent the Spread of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Interoperable SIRs can effectively facilitate outbreak investigations and rapid response to emerging public health threats. 
  • Aid Public Health Initiatives: Whether issuing standardized public health initiatives or supporting research and policy development, access to comprehensive and interoperable immunization data enhances strategies and improves overall public health outcomes. 

State immunization registry interoperability enables public health agencies to embrace a data-driven approach to create evidence-based policies and make informed decisions on public health. 

What are the common challenges faced with interoperability?

Over two decades ago, public health policymakers explored the creation of a national immunization registry. However, due to a bevy of political hurdles, immunization information systems (IIS) were only developed at the local and state levels. This resulted in the US and its territories managing and operating 61 independent IISs and requiring various public health agencies to oversee their operations. 

On top of this federated system, other SIR interoperability challenges include the following:

  • Disparate Data Standards: Different healthcare systems often use varying data formats and standards, making it difficult for SIRs to interpret and integrate data from external sources. 
  • Legacy Systems: Aging and outdated IT infrastructure can pose significant integration challenges, limiting the ability of SIRs to connect with more modern healthcare systems. 
  • Data Quality Issues: In addition, inconsistent data entry practices and incomplete or inaccurate state vaccine records lead to discrepancies that hinder the accuracy of immunization information. 
  • Privacy and Security Concerns: Healthcare providers must also balance data sharing with patient privacy and security regulations. With multiple data sources, disparate standards, and data quality issues, adhering to data protection standards is an enduring challenge for public health agencies. 

Even with progressive and innovative companies like Strategic Solutions Group (SSG), this current environment brings additional hurdles. For example, electronic health record (EHR) market suppliers often need to customize immunization information system solutions to accommodate local laws and policies governing different IIS across the country. 

How can healthcare providers ensure their systems are interoperable with state immunization registries?

While it will take a fully collaborative effort to achieve total interoperability with SIRs, there are several steps healthcare providers can take to get started with the initiative. 

These include the following:

  • Work with State and Local Health Departments: Healthcare providers must work closely with state and local health departments to identify and address any interoperability issues. Health departments can provide guidance on how to connect to SIRs and troubleshoot any problems that may arise. 
  • Upgrade IT Infrastructure: Older systems may be unable to communicate with newer systems or may not support the latest data formats. Updating IT infrastructure gives healthcare providers a solid foundation for achieving interoperability with SIRs.
  • Adopt Standardized Data Formats: Healthcare providers must reach a consensus on which standardized data formats and protocols to adopt. For instance, HL7 (Health Level Seven) and FHIR (Fast Health Interoperability Resources) can provide a common language for exchanging immunization data between different systems. 
  • Establish Data Quality Control Processes: Implementing data quality measures minimizes errors and ensures the accuracy of health department immunization records. This includes verifying that patient information is correct, that vaccination dates and doses are accurate, and that there are no missing or duplicate records. 
  • Test and Certify Systems: This could involve participating in testing events or using third-party services, such as the innovative solutions provided by SSG. Regularly testing systems helps ensure they’re interoperable with SIRs. 

Companies like SSG provide a variety of immunization information system solutions and services that enable healthcare providers to connect systems to SIRs and seamlessly exchange immunization data. These solutions ultimately help quell vaccine-preventable diseases, improve patient care, and protect public health. 

What steps are being taken to improve interoperability in immunization data reporting?

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of interoperability in immunization data reporting. The increased awareness, in turn, has accelerated initiatives, including:

  • Data Modernization Initiative (DMI): Spearheaded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the DMI is a robust initiative to modernize federal and state public health data.  Its goal is to get better, faster, actionable insights for decision-making at all levels of public health.  
  • Public Health Data Standards Consortium (PHDSC): This collaborative effort between state, federal, and private sector organizations aims to develop, promote, and implement data standards for public health and health services research. 
  • Immunization Information Systems (IIS) Strategic Plan: This comprehensive plan outlines a set of strategies and initiatives for achieving seamless data exchange between SIRs and other healthcare systems, such as EHRs, hospital information systems (HIS), and public health surveillance systems. 
  • HHS Interoperability and Standards Program: HHS provides funding and technical support for interoperability initiatives, including immunization data exchange.

Strategic Solutions Group (SSG) is a leading provider of low-code software solutions with almost 20 years of experience in digitizing and modernizing public sector workflows and business processes. During that span, we’ve established our expertise across all segments of the public health domain, including immunization registries, disease surveillance, information exchanges, and vital records. 

Contact us today to learn more about our commitment to developing and implementing interoperable solutions designed to meet the evolving needs of the healthcare industry.