Many doctors, hospitals and healthcare professionals were reluctant to move all patient data to an electronic system. The complexity and enormity of the task were overwhelming, but eventually, a cultural shift in attitudes toward electronic data finally hurtled the healthcare industry into this century.
Soon, the doctors and administrators hesitant to use online systems for storing, tracking and updating patient records saw the benefits. And industry influencers saw an even greater advantage in using technology for data sharing practices to revolutionize healthcare.
There is not a single person in the world not affected by the need for better healthcare, and data sharing can jumpstart that progress in such a simple way. It’s technology – and the ease with which data can be shared – that has the opportunity to improve the health of people everywhere.
Health Information Exchanges
A health information exchange (HIE) is the standard of data sharing within healthcare. HIE platforms, which have three models, allow doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare providers to exchange Electronic Health Records (EHRs). The main benefits include better speed, quality, safety and lowered costs of care. For example, giving a patient’s full medical team access to his information helps avoid a readmission, medication errors, improve diagnoses and decreases duplicate testing.
A direct HIE, which protects and shares data in one location, coordinates care across providers for a single patient. Query-based HIEs, in which doctors or nurses can search for a patient’s medical history on demand, are used in times of unexpected health issues, such as at the emergency room or after a patient has been admitted to the hospital. And consumer-mediated HIEs allow patients to access and control their own data online, giving them the ability to share personal information with any provider and insurance company.
However, despite the advances made by HIE, it is still somewhat limited in healthcare. EHRs alone create data silos difficult to access and share. An HIE eliminates data silos, but is not equipped to store and analyze sophisticated and sensitive data. An in-depth examination of existing collaborative technology in healthcare revealed organizations fear breaches of patient personal information and complain that existing health information systems are not compatible with newer technology, which healthcare organizations are not willing to invest in.
New Technology Solutions
A healthcare data warehouse (EDW) can remove the technical barriers to efficient data sharing. An EDW encrypts, protects, stores, and even analyzes every data point relevant to a patient’s care. Agile EDWs are able to integrate new information quickly and easily, ensuring all records are up-to-date. An EDW also complies with privacy protection and healthcare laws and provides the necessary feedback for improving certain healthcare practices.
Another solution for keeping data secure but flowing is a digital rights manager (DRM), a low-cost platform to place, access and share data. A DRM is legally compliant, protects all records under HIPPA and other legislation, negotiates data ownership with each user, and grants access to only authorized users based on these agreements. With a DRM, accessing data is a safe, easy, and inexpensive process.
Data Sharing Considerations
Currently, healthcare data sharing is highly fragmented. Experts agree the industry needs continued adoption of new technology, greater clarity of regulations, and properly aligned incentives to reach full visibility and accessibility of data.
To improve results and accelerate the necessary cultural shift, a few important data sharing principles will need to be kept in mind and followed. IT and healthcare professionals need to consider ethical guidelines, privacy laws and digital goodwill, especially when dealing with sensitive details such as health records, personally identifiable information and intimate wellness specifics.
Many groups and doctors are asking what the ethical stipulations and privacy concerns of collecting this data are. Should different criteria be used when collecting from a study group versus individuals? Should patients be notified of who is studying their records and why? Should hereditary diseases be treated with more sensitivity than other conditions?
Thankfully, many healthcare institutes and hospitals have thoughtful, diverse and well-educated committees addressing these questions. As data sharing becomes essential to understanding how healthcare – as a business and scientific entity – affects human wellness, these questions are being answered. The underlying theme of these questions is privacy, which is always a factor driving the development of these practices.
Eye toward the Future
Everyone hopes to see the cure for cancer in her lifetime. Everyone hopes to see a healthcare system that treats every ailment and condition with equal attention. Everyone hopes to see affordable healthcare that every citizen can access with ease.
These goals are not as unattainable as they might seem. The power is in an existing technology that has the power to change healthcare for the better. Our niche is data sharing and collaboration between businesses, but healthcare is no different. Sharing information on patient case studies, larger treatment patterns, surgical procedures and many other medical practices spreads the wealth of knowledge, spurs research and fosters the advancement of medicine.
If the industry keeps ethical considerations and proper management practices in mind while navigating this technology-driven function, we will see a revolution to heal the world. Patients are poised to gain so much from so little.
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