Written by Frank Tucker

Healthcare Information Exchanges

Sharing healthcare information is vitally important to improving patient care. How information is shared, however, is governed by a number of rules and regulations, and generally must be done using a healthcare information exchange. In general, a healthcare information exchange allows doctors’ offices, hospitals, nurses, and other entities to communicate electronically about a patient. These systems are designed to shorten the cycle of care and to improve the quality of overall care, while also cutting costs.

Paper records cannot be updated as quickly as electronic records, nor are they as easy to search. When healthcare providers can communicate electronically about a patient, in an exchange that adheres that communication directly to the patient’s chart, all doctors who access the exchange can easily update their individual electronic patient charts. This means that there is less chance of readmission, misdiagnoses, and even help to cut down on unnecessary duplication of testing.

However, the healthcare community has been slow to adopt these healthcare information exchanges, largely because so much patient information is stored in paper charts, rather than on a fully electronic chart system. This has been one of the major adoption barriers for information exchanges between different healthcare providers. Even if one provider is willing to adopt the system, other pertinent providers may not, making it impossible to either share or glean information from the exchange.

There are also some concerns among patients that their information is not total secure when stored on online servers. The prevalence of hackers and information-gleaning viruses does make it
possible for information stored online to be compromised, but health information exchanges are designed to combat these kinds of attacks. Yet, there is still the belief that information could be pulled from the system as it is transferred from one doctor to another.

These two barriers have seriously impeded the adoption of these healthcare information exchanges, though it has the potential to vastly improving healthcare on the whole. If providers could incorporate these new exchanges into their workflow, it would be much easier to obtain complete, useful information about the patients they service.

Personal Health Records Sharing

Insurance companies have developed and released programs that would help an individual develop and maintain a personal healthcare record. These records are available through an online portal and contain information not just from one doctor, but from all doctors that the patient visits.

In general, most people assume that the doctors that they see will keep track of and retain the information that they need, and while that is true, most people see more than one doctor, for many different issues. Instead of assuming, keeping a personal electronic healthcare record, makes it easy to ensure that each patient has all of their information, to share with different providers as necessary.

Again, because of the sensitive information that is stored in most medical records, individuals have had a difficult time adopting these new programs, though they could improve efficiency of care and help cut back on serious problems like drug interactions and delays in testing and procedures. In order to be able to transfer this information easily to a provider, or to gather information from a provider, the information must be able to be stored and communicated electronically, which has become a serious barrier for more people.

Though there are obvious benefits to this kind of program and companies like Microsoft and even the massive media mogul Google have offered to store the data, the adoption of personal health records and the use of those records to share information has largely been a failure. See my previous article on my thoughts on why PHR adoption is anemic at best.

Consumerism in Healthcare

One of the biggest blocks in mainstream adoption of healthcare information exchanges has to do with the patients themselves. Though doctors are slow to digitize their records, the real barrier is getting patients to actively participate in their own healthcare. Though many doctors have already begun making personal healthcare records available through an online portal, and will even equip their patients with the wed address and password, it has been extremely difficult to get the patients to actually use that information. While healthcare organizations can force their providers to use the new online systems, they cannot force the patients to take that same step.

This means that most organizations are having a very limited success rate when it comes to digital record keeping. The solution is to inject a healthy dose of consumerism into the healthcare community. Most experts believe that the only way to get patients to participate in the democratization of their own healthcare information is to start employing the right marketing methods. Patients need to see why using these online portals, why being active in the collection and dissemination of their information will improve their lives on an individual level. Patients do not care about making the lives of their doctors easier—using and updating these electronic records needs to presented in a way that patients understand why it betters their own lives.  See some of my thoughts about consumerism in healthcare here.

Most patients simply see these electronic systems as yet another way their data can be stolen and used against them. Healthcare organizations need to start highlight the very real personal benefits of these systems. There is risk involved, but there are also massive benefits. Instead of pointing out how easy they are to use and how it makes diagnosing and treating a patient faster for the providers, organizations should tout how easy they are to use for the patient, and how they cut costs for the patient, especially by cutting down on the amount of visits.

By coating the message with a layer of marketing, it will be easier for consumers to swallow, and adoption will being to increase exponentially. Like any other industry, healthcare needs to start discussing how to engage patients, how to attract and excite them about these information exchanges and personal electronic health records.