Many Providers Still Struggle With Basic Data Sharing

Posted on February 15, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

One might assume that by this point, virtually every provider with a shred of IT in place is doing some form of patient data exchange. After all, many studies tout the number of healthcare data send and receive transactions a given vendor network or HIE has seen, and it sure sounds like a lot. But if a new survey is any indication, such assumptions are wrong.

According a study by Black Book Research, which surveyed 3,391 current hospital EMR users, 41% of responding medical record administrators find it hard to exchange patient health records with other providers, especially if the physicians involved aren’t on their EMR platform. Worse, 25% said they still can’t use any patient information that comes in from outside sources.

The problem isn’t a lack of interest in data sharing. In fact, Black Book found that 81% of network physicians hoped that their key health system partners’ EMR would provide interoperability among the providers in the system. Moreover, the respondents say they’re looking forward to working on initiatives that depend on shared patient data, such as value-based payment, population health and precision medicine.

The problem, as we all know, is that most hospitals are at an impasse and can’t find ways to make interoperability happen. According to the survey, 70% of hospitals that responded weren’t using information outside of their EMR.  Respondents told Black Book that they aren’t connecting clinicians because external provider data won’t integrate with their EMR’s workflow.

Even if the data flows are connected, that may not be enough. Researchers found that 22% of surveyed medical record administrators felt that transferred patient information wasn’t presented in a useful format. Meanwhile, 21% of hospital-based physicians contended that shared data couldn’t be trusted as accurate when it was transmitted between different systems.

Meanwhile, the survey found, technology issues may be a key breaking point for independent physicians, many of whom fear that they can’t make it on their own anymore.  Black Book found that 63% of independent docs are now mulling a merger with a big healthcare delivery system to both boost their tech capabilities and improve their revenue cycle results. Once they have the funds from an acquisition, they’re cleaning house; the survey found that EMR replacement activities climbed 52% in 2017 for acquired physician practices.

Time for a comment here. I wish I agreed with medical practice leaders that being acquired by a major health system would solve all of their technical problems. But I don’t, really. While being acquired may give them an early leg up, allowing them to dump their arguably flawed EMR, I’d wager that they won’t have the attention of senior IT people for long.

My sense is that hospital and health system leaders are focused externally rather than internally. Most of the big threats and opportunities – like ACO integration – are coming at leaders from the outside.

True, if a practice is a valuable ally, but independent of the health system, CIOs and VPs may spend lots of time and money to link arms with them technically. But once they get in house, it’s more of a “get in line” situation from what I’ve seen.  Readers, what is your experience?