In world of health data, enemies may become friends

Dan Gorenstein Mar 10, 2015

In world of health data, enemies may become friends

Dan Gorenstein Mar 10, 2015

Sharing patient information is a key to improving patient health. That’s a mantra in health care these days, but it is much harder to pull off than you might think.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell’s recent announcement ushering in paying doctors and hospitals based more on quality than quantity makes exchanging this data more valuable by the day from a business perspective.

And while there’s money to be made and customer satisfaction to be gained, many doctors say still say they aren’t getting the information they need to help their patients.

Dr. Neal Weinberg says sharing that data is essential to helping a person be well.

“Not having immediate, accurate information in one chart can lead to complications for the patient, they could die, they could be pretty sick and end up back in the hospital with other problems,” he says.

That seriousness helps explain why doctors and hospitals around the country have begun to share information. For example, the Penn Medical System uses 600 servers to exchange patient data with surrounding providers including some competitors.

But Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Bill Hanson explains there are real world limitations that cap Penn’s ability to share more than they do.

“There’s sort of a yin/yang of the desire to exchange information and protect information. There are also the politics of working with competitors,” he says.

We’ve been hearing about these issues  technical kinks, patient privacy and collaborating with competitors  for a while now. New data shows more than half the groups who are trying to better manage care  through what are called Accountable Care Organizations  say they can’t get timely patient data. And if those folks, who have every economic incentive to get that information, can’t, there’s a serious problem.

University of Michigan Professor Julia Adler-Milstein says she’s focused on finding ways to cut through the challenges. There’s too much at stake, she says.

“You need complete information to ensure that care is safe,” she says. “You need complete information to ensure that care is effective. You need complete information to ensure that care is efficient and not wasteful.”

Given the potential to improve health and lower spending, Adler-Milstein says we must learn which challenges are really blocking up the data. One problem, she says, is that electronic health record companies are making it difficult to connect with other health record companies.

“We don’t have good empirical data on that but you just can sort of hear the chorus of complaints from anyone you talk to about how hard it is,” she says.

Adler-Milstein says one solution is to create a consumers’ report of sorts for doctors and hospitals to show which electronic records companies make sharing easier.

Dr. Ira Nash, an executive with North Shore LIJ Health System on Long Island, says change the idea that doctors are in charge of all this stuff.

“You want the patients in the middle. They are the consumer. We exist to serve their needs. Why should we own the data,” he says.

By its nature much of medicine is guesswork. But when it comes to patient data, Michigan’s Adler-Milstein says, some of the guesswork goes away.

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