November 13, 2008

Personal Health Records Will Play an Important Role in the Exchange of Health Information

Early successes in healthcare interoperability are paving the way for more health information exchanges in the near to mid future. Separate networks, including personal health records, will connect to form larger networks, and despite continuing skepticism surrounding the burgeoning technology, health information exchanges look set to become a typical part of the patient experience.

Interoperability in healthcare is the ability to exchange health information stored in disparate IT systems both within a healthcare organization as well as among them. Sharing health information electronically will help providers gain a more complete picture, giving them a 360 degree view of the patient and their history. Improving the quality of care through health information exchanges (HIE) will also make the healthcare system more efficient, decreasing costs for healthcare systems.

For example, dermatologists currently only see dermatology records, and cardiologists only see cardiology records. Primary care physicians (PCPs), in theory, are able to see the patient as a whole, but if other physicians do not actively share information with the PCPs, then they are limited by a lack of patient data. However, an interoperable environment in healthcare would allow patient health information isolated in each provider's office to be shared between them, improving the quality of patient care and decreasing overall healthcare costs.

However, despite the obvious benefits, achieving interoperability in healthcare continues to be a difficult undertaking. In the past, this was partly due to poor technology, but today, the primary issue is that organizations are not ready. The majority of healthcare providers has not yet tried using personal health records (PHRs) and does not understand how they work. Clinicians are concerned about the quality of the data, and consumers are worried about privacy and security issues.

Even though these issues are being addressed by PHR companies, most healthcare professionals still do not see the value of the technology. However, Datamonitor believes that the exchange of health information will begin occurring on a broader scale despite these barriers. Organizational issues such as finding a sustainable business model, addressing the perceived lack of privacy and security of patient information and the lack of trust between healthcare stakeholders are difficult barriers to overcome, but they are not impossible,

Simplifying the number of connections healthcare organizations need to make will not only empower patients, but could also circumvent many of the problems facing regional and national HIE initiatives. In addition, PHRs allow doctors to access medical information at a time when it may not be readily available. For example, if a patient is lying unconscious, with no family or friends to speak for them, a PHR will provide a doctor with access to health information (such as medical history, allergies and existing conditions) and allow them to act accordingly, rather than treating the patient blindly and putting their life at risk.

It will certainly take time to overcome the current skepticism regarding PHRs, but this life or death scenario highlights the importance of HIE, and all involved parties need to continue working together to achieve interoperability in healthcare, despite the perceived difficulties. In the future, PHRs are expected to become a typical part of the patient experience, once patients and providers understand that the benefits of PHRs outweigh the risks.