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Healthcare firms need more transparency sharing clinical data, study says

on June 17, 2011 Source: Kauffman Foundation

Observers of healthcare clinical data sharing practices usually fall into two camps: Frustrated and royally frustrated.

That includes healthcare startups, which often measure their profits by their ability to share data with other health organizations. The more people you’re connecting to, and communicating with, the more business relationships you’re building.

That’s why entrepreneurs should know that the amount of data flowing through the healthcare industry pipeline is worthy of the “three I’s – immense, important and often incomprehensible.”

It’s generally been that way for decades, as key industry players like hospitals, practice providers, insurers, vendors and other government agencies treat the information superhighway to run at any speed limit they want. They enter and exit any on- and off-ramps they want and keep their windows rolled up and radios off so they don’t have to communicate with anyone they want – or don’t want.

With healthcare reform on the doorstep, industry think tanks, non-profits and business and technology associations have called for greater transparency between healthcare entities, without significant results.

Exhibit “A”? A February, 2011 study from HIMSS Analytics and NextGen Healthcare calls for better “interoperability strategies.”

From the HIMMS report:

Conducted through focus groups with representatives from ambulatory practices and hospitals, the study brings to light a diverse array of methods for data sharing across the continuum of care, with manual processes such as fax, encrypted email, web portals and encrypted patient devices still used often.

Good luck with that strategy. Even the study authors admit the industry isn’t interested in transparency and doesn’t want to play ball (though they say it in a diplomatic way).

Respondents face several challenges with these methods, however, including the significant work required to maintain and upgrade a variety of disparate systems for sharing with multiple organizations, as well as a lack of industry standards.

The HIMMS/NextGen study calls for Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) as a means of resolving non-transparency issues “to arm providers with a complete patient record, as HIEs provide a single platform for positive patient identification and data sharing between healthcare organizations in a local environment.”

While some vertical healthcare groups, such as state Medicaid programs, are seriously testing such exchanges, full-blown industry participation remains elusive, study researchers say. And that could lead to some red ink on those businesses’ bottom lines.

“If you’re a provider and haven’t begun developing an interoperability plan, talking about PCMH or engaging in discussions on Accountable Care, the time to start is now,” says Scott Decker, president of NextGen Healthcare. “The expertise and educational resources needed to help guide you through these emerging care models are out there. Providers should take advantage of the counsel available from their vendors, industry organizations and peers, and begin to make their voices heard in the development of these initiatives, as they will undoubtedly impact your business in the future.”

Now flash forward to June, 2011, when HIMSS follows up the original study with a new report signaling good news and bad news on the data sharing front.

The good news? Increased transparency is becoming more of a priority with healthcare organizations. The bad news? Such organizations don’t have the tools to get the job done.

Healthcare organizations are embracing the need for information transparency to drive clinical transformation, but they still require the tools and capabilities to make data available in real time and reduce the burden on scarce resources, concludes the HIMSS 2011 Clinical Transformation Survey.

About 75 percent of survey respondents say they either are pulling together or already have a leadership team dedicated to “clinical transformation.” But fewer than 50 percent aren’t sharing any clinical data sharing plan information with their staffs.

Some other findings from the second study:

  • Just over 49 percent indicated their focus is on ensuring the organization has a fully operational electronic health record in place.
  • 58 percent of respondents say they use business intelligence tools to facilitate quality reporting.
  • 53 percent of respondents indicated their organization has documented efficiencies and cost savings related to clinical quality.
  • 78 percent of respondents say they have a formal leadership team that addresses clinical transformation. Another 57 percent said clinical transformation is part of the organization’s strategic plan.
  • Almost 75 percent of respondents noted they need additional IT resources to better report on quality measures, followed by more staff (61 percent) and more money (58 percent).
  • Only 35 percent of respondents report that data at their organizations are imported into a data repository or warehouse.

Clearly, there is room for improvement when it comes to healthcare organizations sharing critical data. But that only provides more opportunities for the businesses that open up and emphasize transparency in sharing information with other industry players.

Right now, that may seem like a luxury. But someday, as widespread healthcare reform kicks in, transparency will be a necessity.

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