The Urgent Need for Healthcare Data Sharing

The subject of secure data sharing in healthcare has long been a hot topic. Ensuring that the collection, storage and diffusion of valuable patient data remains secure and accessible by the right people when needed is what drives healthcare interoperability.

Improving patient care is possible through comprehensive platforms where clinicians can easily view a patient’s history and data on their current condition. The ability to then share this information between systems, providers and the patients themselves is truly the recipe for improved decision-making and better health outcomes.

Interoperability Standards

With all the talk about healthcare interoperability, it is time healthcare organizations implement interoperable systems. Technology is now being developed alongside industry standards and protocols, providing healthcare professionals with next-generation standards.

The IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) initiative was developed to foster improved use of computer systems in healthcare and obtain better interoperability. Others include the international HL7 organization standards, the DICOM standards for imaging departments and the FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standards. The latter, along with IHE standards and profiles address:

  • Storage
  • Data capture
  • Integration
  • Discovery and presentation challenges

The need for data sharing within the healthcare industry will need to go beyond bringing complex systems together. The systems themselves will need to support IHE profiles and sharing standards to allow healthcare professionals to share clinical data with colleagues to make better treatment decisions.

Interoperable systems with HIE integration within the healthcare industry would lead to a 59% reduction in redundant CT scans, 44% less duplicate ultrasounds and 67% less duplicate chest X-rays conducted, according to a study by the University of Michigan. This would lead to almost $3 million in annual savings from unnecessary procedures and could spark additional savings thanks to cross-department data sharing.

Challenges of Secure Healthcare Data Sharing

Although the need for industry-wide standard implementation, there are other barriers to achieving healthcare interoperability. Regulatory burdens are one of them.

As patients often don’t have a relationship with all the providers that end up seeing their healthcare data, this would pose a challenge in terms of strict regulatory prohibition. To promote care coordination across providers and establishments, regulations need to account for the need to disclose patient data to providers within integrated care settings. This way, patients can expand their care needs and be treated by a team of doctors and not limited to only ones they have a relationship with.

Another barrier would be linked to a patient’s substance use. When providers don’t have full access to an individual’s substance use records, it can put their patient’s life at risk. Data sharing under HIPAA will need to align with substance use disorder treatment information to ensure proper care is provided to all patients.

The 21st Century Cures Act, enacted in December of 2016, called for enhanced IT requirements, shifting the way healthcare professionals share data. As the law included potential financial penalties for providers and vendors who did not meet the interoperability and information blocking language requirements, many stakeholders grew concerned. This has led many healthcare organizations to investigate joining information sharing groups such as the National Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center (H-ISAC) to help improve patient care around data sharing.

Overall, the healthcare industry and especially patients can greatly benefit from better data sharing options. Through easy and secure access to valuable information, providers can share comprehensive patient information among one another and ultimately augment patient care.

About the Author
Jennifer Morency

Jennifer Morency is the Director of Marketing for Hello Health, the complete Cloud-Based EHR, Practice Management System and Patient Portal, that helps practices be more efficient and increase patient engagement.