The importance of data sharing (in times of crisis)Regional healthcare facilities can quickly become overwhelmed for a number of reasons at any given time. From a flu season with higher than normal activity, to a sudden population increase or a shortage of physicians due to a global pandemic, it can be difficult for healthcare systems to manage an influx of patients while keeping information organized.

When systems are overwhelmed, patients may be shuffled between urgent care centers, specialists and independent practices to receive a diagnosis and/or prescription. During these times, it’s crucial that healthcare organizations and physicians participate in an electronic data exchange. A seamless flow of information between providers turns fragmented information and data silos into a complete patient profile that ultimately improves their quality of care.

What is information blocking?

Imagine going from your primary care doctor to a specialist for symptoms you’re having. You expect them to have information about your medical history so they can make an accurate diagnosis and prescription, but they don’t. You may be delayed in receiving treatment while the provider tries to fill in the gaps or you could be prescribed a procedure you’ve already had, or that is detrimental to your health.

While this is an extreme example, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) reported nearly one-third of individuals who went to a doctor in 2018 experienced a gap in information exchange. Many times this resulted in them having to repeat a test or provide prior results themselves at an appointment.

Information blocking that results in these gaps is more than just a single provider keeping patient information under lock and key. When practices restrict authorized access, exchange or use of information that could be used for treatment and other care purposes, implement health IT in a way that burdens those trying to access it, restricts access or purposely provides incomplete electronic health information, it could constitute information blocking specified by Section 4004 of the 21st Century Cures Act.

In times when healthcare systems are struggling to meet patient demand, this barrier to information is detrimental to patient care and is the reason many healthcare providers are participating in health information exchanges (HIEs).

The benefits of data sharing for healthcare

When a provider joins an HIE, they are promising to break down barriers to data with other participating facilities and physicians to securely share a patient’s complete medical history. This model has become popular among physicians because of its many benefits, and CMS even proposed requirements that all insurers and providers serving Medicare patients must make their claims and health information accessible electronically by 2020.

By making patient information accessible across providers through electronic data sharing, physicians, organizations, patients and the entire healthcare system can benefit from:

Reducing duplicate procedures: When important patient reports, such as blood testing, isn’t available to a physician, they may have to call for a duplicate procedure. Not only is this inefficient and frustrating for the patient, but it also costs more in the long run. During times when test results are crucial for patient care, like during a pandemic, duplicating a procedure can have severe consequences for public health.

Spotting trends: With patient information provided from multiple physicians rather than just one facility, it can be easier for physicians to spot trends in illnesses and diagnoses – like identifying at-risk populations. They can use this information to benefit public health and further plans of care for patients.

Improving the quality of patient care: Nearly 90% of providers said that electronic data exchanged improved the quality of their patients’ care, according to Becker’s Healthcare. When physicians have the complete medical history of a patient, no matter who their other care providers are, they can make more accurate diagnoses and prescriptions that don’t conflict with their other conditions, medications or allergies.

Enhancing the patient experience: Patients take notice of a smooth experience with the healthcare system. When they receive quality care, with no delays because their medical records are easily accessible to the doctor they are seeing, it leaves a positive overall impression.

Increasing efficiency: Becker’s Healthcare further reported that 80% of providers agreed that electronic data exchanges increased their practice’s efficiency. Without having to fill our unnecessary paperwork or tracking down missing patient information, physicians can get right to treating a patient.

All of these benefits mean that patients receive the best care possible and healthcare costs can be reduced, the perfect combination for combating the rising costs of care and helping facilities manage an influx of patients during unprecedented events.

Take steps to share information today

Seamless sharing of electronic health information is easier when working with a knowledgeable IT partner. With years of experience with health IT and expertise in systems integration, Tangible Solutions can seamlessly connect your care community by merging technology with your unique workflow.

Contact us to learn more about how data sharing can benefit your practice right now and for years to come.