Hospitals Sharing More Patient Data Than Ever, But Is It Having An Impact On Patient Care?

Posted on November 1, 2018 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.

Brace yourself for more happy talk in a positive interoperability spin, folks. Even if they aren’t exchanging as much health data as they might have hoped, hospitals are sharing more patient health data than they ever have before, according to a new report from the ONC.

The ONC, which recently analyzed 2017 data from the American Hospital Association’s Information Technology Supplement Survey, concluded that 93% of non-federal acute care hospitals have upgraded to the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria or plan to upgrade. These criteria include new technical capabilities that support health data interoperability.

Today, most hospitals (88%) can send patient summary of care records electronically, and receive them from outside sources (74%), ONC’s analysis concluded. In addition, last year the volume of hospitals reporting that they could query and integrate patient health data significantly increased.

Not only that, the volume of hospitals engaged in four key interoperability activities (electronically sending, receiving, finding and integrating health data) climbed 41% over 2016. On the downside, however, only four in 10 hospitals reported being able to find patient health information, send, receive and integrate patient summary of care records from outside sources into their data.

According to ONC, hospitals that work across these four key interoperability domains tend to be more sophisticated than their peers who don’t.

In fact, in 2017 83% of hospitals able to send, receive, find, and integrate outside health information also had health information electronic available at the point of care. This is a 20% higher level than hospitals engaging in just three domains, and a whopping seven times higher than hospitals that don’t engage in any domain.

Without a doubt, on its face this is good news. What’s not to like? Hospitals seem to be stepping up the interoperability game, and this can only be good for patients over time.

On the other hand, it’s hard for me to measure just how important it is in the near term. Yes, it seems like hospitals are getting more nimble, more motivated and more organized when it comes to data sharing, but it’s not clear what impact this may be having on patient care processes and outcomes.

Over time, most interoperability measures I’ve seen have focused more on receipt and transmission of patient health data far more than integration of that data into EHRs. I’d argue that it’s time to move beyond measuring back and forth of data and put more impact on how often physicians use that data in their work.

There’s certainly a compelling case to be made that health data interoperability matters. I’ve never disputed that. But I think it’s time we measure success a bit more stringently. In other words, if ONC can’t define the clinical benefits of health data exchange clearly, in terms that matter to physicians, it’s time to make it happen.