Hospitals Offering Broad Access To Health Data, But There Are Limits

Posted on October 5, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

A new study released by the ONC concludes that hospitals are almost universally offering patients ability to view their data electronically, with large numbers offering patients the ability to view and share their data digitally as well.

While the data reveals that hospitals have become more ready to offer electronic access to patient records, it also suggests that they are struggling to provide a full array of electronic access options. The fact that some hospitals still haven’t gotten there may be just a phase, but it may also suggest that issues still remain which they need to address before they offer a full range of patient data functions.

On the one hand, the results of the study are promising. The ONC data demonstrates that there’s been a very substantial uptick in the deployment of patient data access technologies between 2012 and 2015. The data shows that in 2015, 95% of U.S. hospitals gave patients the ability to view their health information electronically, 87% allowed them to download their health information and 69% offered the trifecta (patients get to view, download and transmit the health information).

These numbers represent huge changes that took place during the period studied. For example, in 2013 no state had 40% or more of its hospitals offering patients the ability to view, download or transmit their data, and now all states have at least 40% of their hospitals offering all three options. Meanwhile, the volume of hospitals offering view and download availability has grown 70% when compared to 2012, the ONC reports. And the proportion of hospitals providing view, download and transmit capabilities increased seven fold from 2013.

These numbers track closely with data reported by the American Hospital Association earlier this year, which found that 92% of hospitals responding to its survey offered patients access to the medical records in 2015, up from just 43% in 2013. The AHA also found that 84% of hospitals allowed patients to download information from their records, 70% let patients suggest changes to their medical record and 70% had made it possible for patients to send a referral summary electronically.

All that being said, however, I find it a bit troubling that roughly 30% of hospitals aren’t offering the all three major functions mentioned above. It appears that a failure to offer patients the ability to share their data is what disqualifies most of the 31% from being included in the list of broadly-functioning data sharing candidates. And that’s just too bad.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a substantial subset of hospitals haven’t enabled such sharing, given that many still seem to see the data as proprietary. (I can’t prove this but I’ve heard many anecdotes to that effect.) But I’m still disappointed to find that many hospitals haven’t enabled such a lightweight model of interoperability.