It should come as little surprise to me that no matter the healthcare sector — long-term care, ambulatory or in patient, for example – most of the worries faced are the same or very similar. Many of the same levels of attention is given to many of the highly complex usual suspects – interoperability, health information exchange, accountable care, HIPAA and even mandates like meaningful use. The murmurs of those working here are often similar and there is a fairly deep collective holding of the breath in regard to advancements or developments in these areas regarding the blowing winds of how these and other issues sway constituents throughout the marketplace.
The general sentiment of individuals, those leading large hospitals and multi-location care facilities, who express their opinions and concerns to organizations like HIMSS, to name one, are the same as the concerns voiced by many of the attendees at PointClickCare’s annual user meeting, to name one, in Orlando Nov. 2-5, 2014. These same sentiments also are expressed at variety of other meetings of the minds throughout the US in similar constituent groups or with vendor and other allegiances.
Educational and work sessions held at these gatherings always have the same look and feel; the same as those expressed at PointClickCare’s Summit 2014. Engagement, connection, care; ACOs, HIEs, and managing their relationships; EHRs, interoperability, and managing this relationship and the flow of information (or doing so when the information does begin to flow); and change management strategies that provide guidance and advice for … managing change.
The information exchanged in venues such as these and the sessions themselves are valuable, of course, and needed to fill an enormous information void. Most importantly, these healthcare education sessions draw together folks seeking guidance and those needing insight, as well as provide a dash of leadership at times when much seems to be lacking. Finally, these educational sessions – quick and concise as many of these sessions may be – alleviate fear during a scary and tumultuous time in healthcare.
By Stephen Cobb, senior researcher, ESET North America.
The benefits of making health records available electronically would seem to be obvious. For a start, faster access to more accurate patient information – which is one of the promises of EHRs (electronic health records) and HIEs (health information exchanges) – could save lives. The author of a recent report on the many thousands of lethal “patient adverse events” that occur in America every year, Dr. John T. James, pointed to “more accurate and streamlined medical recordkeeping” as a top priority in the effort to reduce these deadly medical errors. Yet headlines about healthcare facilities exposing confidential patient data to potential abuse have been all over the media this year. So, will security issues and privacy concerns stymie EHR adoption or slow down HIE rollouts?
Today, more than half of all Americans probably have at least some part of their medical record stored on computer. In January, the CDC reported that roughly four out of five office-based physicians are now using some type of EHR system, up from one in five in 2001. A few months later, in a Harris poll sponsored by ESET, only 17 percent of adult Americans said that, to their knowledge, their health records were not in electronic format.
During that same survey of 1,734 American adults, we asked “are you concerned about the security and privacy of your electronic patient health records” and 40 percent said they were. Slightly more of them, 43 percent said they were not. However, if we take out the 17 percent whose records were not in electronic format, the “concerned or not?” question breaks down as 48 percent Yes, versus 50 percent No, a statistical tie.
Guest post by Judy Chan, president, HealthPro Consulting.
Burgeoning EHR implementations nationwide attributable to the meaningful use incentive program have created a surge in HIO and electronic health information exchange (eHIE).
Having health information available for electronic exchange is generally accepted as beneficial to patients, providers and payers. Providers can access patient information from other providers when they need it where they need it. Providers are able to avoid duplicating lab tests, scans and x-rays that save the payers dollars. Additionally, patients don’t need to remember what treatments were administered or drugs prescribed and can avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation.
In emergency situations, the benefits of having a patient’s health information available to emergency room staff are obvious. Patients who have experienced referrals in the course of diagnosis and treatment also readily see the advantage of not having to hand-carry all of their medical records from one doctor’s office to the next. The electronic exchange of health information among providers eliminates faxes, paper work and phone calls.
What makes the exchange of health information frightening to patients?
1. Your health information is available to others who have a legitimate need.
2. Consent must be given by the patient to share their information
3. You must trust the distributor of your information
4. You should monitor your data on a regular basis and make corrections when necessary
5. Information could be accidentally released without your permission.
6. Your consent is electronically recorded by multiple systems.
Do these risks sound familiar? They should because they are not very different from the risks that credit rating agencies that have recorded your financial transactions for years.
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act pushing hospitals and health systems to provide services more efficiently, a significant number of hospitals, health systems and providers are sharing secure patient information through health information exchanges (“HIEs”), and accountable care organizations (“ACOs”). The advent of both the HIEs and the ACOs are additional opportunities for protected health information to be shared by hospitals, doctors and other providers.
HIEs allow for patient information, including lab tests, imaging tests, prescriptions and treatments, to be shared by the participants in the HIE. The development of these electronic HIEs allow for the secure exchange of health information among entities participating in the HIE. Generally, the rights and responsibilities of those entitled to share the information is governed by participation agreements. Many providers believe that sharing data will improve healthcare and promote not only quality of care, but efficient care, as well. Similarly, the development of ACOs by otherwise independent providers results in more patient information shared in electronic fashion. The advent of both HIEs and ACOs provide another medium for possible breaches of the privacy rule.
The privacy rule requires that covered entities verify the identity and authority of persons requesting Protected Health Information (“PHI”) if the individual requesting it is not known to the entity. The Rule, however, does not specify in great detail the verification that must be made and, thus, there is flexibility that can be applied with regard to HIEs and ACOs.
Generally, in a HIE, the participants agree, by contract or otherwise, to provide to the HIE a list of authorized persons so the HIE can appropriately authenticate users of the network. Documentation required for uses and disclosures may be provided in electronic form, and documentation requiring signatures may be provided as scanned images. It is important from an HIE perspective for the various participants to agree on a common set of privacy safeguards that are appropriate to the risk associated with exchanging PHI to and through the HIE. Similarly, with ACOs, the ACO should establish a common set of privacy safeguards that are appropriate to the privacy risks associated with multiple providers using PHI. These common standards would include a breach notification policy or procedure. To fully understand what must be done, one must have a basic understanding of what is considered a breach.
HIE expansion about supply and demand? Well, if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I spend a good bit of time perusing HealthIT.gov. Though it’s not flashy and overwhelming, the site is informative and actually provides a great deal of information, which says a lot since it’s a government property.
What HeatlhIT.gov does well is provide a nice primer of information about a variety of subjects from meaningful use, electronic health records and health information exchanges.
In addition, the site puts everything in plain and simple language for all the world to understand.
For example, take a look at the reasons why health information exchanges are important to the healthcare landscape:
The ability to exchange health information electronically is the foundation of efforts to improve healthcare quality and safety. HIE can provide:
The connecting point for an organized, standardized process of data exchange across statewide, regional and local initiatives
The means to reduce duplication of services (resulting in lower healthcare costs)
The means to reduce operational costs by automating many administrative tasks
Governance and management of the data exchange process
And for good measure, here are a few examples of how health information exchanges are benefiting the healthcare landscape. Some of these concepts are a bit obvious and overstated here, but still this provides a nice starting point in support for the soon to be possible movement.
Benefits of health information exchanges:
Provide a vehicle for improving quality and safety of patient care
Provides a basic level of interoperability among EHRs maintained by individual physicians and organizations
Stimulates consumer education and patients’ involvement in their own healthcare
Helps public health officials meet their commitment to the community
Creates a potential loop for feedback between health-related research and actual practice
Facilitates efficient deployment of emerging technology and healthcare services
Provides the backbone of technical infrastructure for leverage by national and state-level initiatives
I’m not alone in the belief that I feel HIEs’ most important role is one of creating interoperable opportunities to connect physicians and their patients to a web of other care givers and health community members.
It seems that the closer we get to HIEs and their overall acceptance in healthcare, doesn’t it seem like we take two steps back?
What are some of the hurdles keeping HIEs from reaching their full potential? Glad you asked.
Cost has to be the clear front runner. As I’ve previously stated, the questions remain – who’s going to pay for them? The government clearly wants a healthy HIE community because it is believed that they will lead to greater adoption of EHRs while vendors want part of the action so they can charge physicians to transfer data through the networks. Vendors can’t figure out a financial model for them and until they can get someone to pay for them, there may be little movement here.
Another hurdle of HIEs is that for those that exist, the data often exists in silos. Problem with siloed data is that the data doesn’t go anywhere. Sounds a lot like an EHR, but an EHR may be more user friendly and robust. Just saying.
Finally, lack of standards impede their advancement. More development for standards is required for the variety of HIEs to be able to communicate. Profiles, like the need for structured data in EHRs, will help advance the cause and promote their development.
Ultimately, HIE expansion will most likely come down to basic business 101: supply and demand. When the population demands it, we’ll see the supply increase and in so doing, we’ll see cost containment, industry wide standards and completely interoperable systems that will completely open up the health IT market place.