Putting patients in charge of their medical information

Data suffuses every aspect of our modern lives. Smart phones, apps, and wearable devices give us the ability to manage that data in ways that empower, inform, and connect us. We can split restaurant bills, shop online, and navigate countless tasks and transactions cheaply, conveniently, and with ease. This is true across almost every function of society with one notable exception — healthcare.

Despite more than a decade of advances in digitizing health records, building patient portals, and transitioning from paper to electronic prescriptions, healthcare is woefully behind when it comes to meeting normal consumer expectations for information and guidance that they can understand. Business-to-business interoperability of healthcare data across payers, providers, pharmacies, and other institutions is a necessary foundation, but not sufficient for advances in the access and quality we all desire. It is time to inspire a better healthcare system by tackling the "last mile" — open, transparent, and interconnected health data access for all Americans.

Today we lack easy access to and basic control over our own medical and billing records. Financial data, including the prices that can inform consumer decisions, remain largely opaque. Hospitals, clinics, testing facilities, private insurers, and government payers that deliver and manage care represent islands of data, not stops along an information superhighway. This impedes care coordination and better outcomes while increasing the cost and administrative burden of care. Just as critically, the lack of interconnected data stops consumers from being able to effectively manage their own health and the cost of their care.

A truly patient-centric healthcare system should allow all medical data to be accessible when and where it is needed. Financial data should be as transparent and accessible as prices are for consumer goods and services in other sectors. When this occurs, the healthcare dynamic will change. Patients will be empowered as fully-informed decision-makers and consumers. Providers, insurers, pharmacists, and others will be better able to align their products and services around patient wants and needs.

How can the healthcare industry make such a fundamental shift in direction? No doubt, consumer industry giants like Apple, Amazon and Google are raising expectations for what personal data can and should do. They are also bringing "outside-in" problem-solving to an industry that is arguably one of the most complex in the American economy. However, to leverage the best of the consumer world within the context of healthcare, we must build secure data bridges between the consumer world and the regulated healthcare world, with secure, standardized, consumer consent at its core.

Progress is under way. Congress, with the 21st Century Cures Act, has mandated information sharing and penalized information blocking. Regulatory policy bodies like the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) have helped guide and shape coordinated efforts. Change Healthcare and other industry participants have led efforts like the Argonaut Project, to bring the consumer applications world into health information technology systems, and the CommonWell Health Alliance, to accelerate record sharing across healthcare systems and settings of care. These initiatives have advanced a better information system with secure, nationwide access to patient records.

It's time to accelerate the pace. As deductibles and out-of-pocket costs continue to rise, patients will become increasingly frustrated if the flow of healthcare information and their ability to understand and use it does not meet their expectations. A neutral information infrastructure centered on the patient with information that’s easily accessible will help make patients more informed decision-makers when it comes to their own care. This will catalyze a wave of information technology and healthcare innovation that strives to meet consumer demands for higher-quality care, better service, more convenience, and greater transparency. Where can I get the best care for my condition? What are my choices, and what are the costs? Over time, the empowerment that comes from being able to answer these questions sets the stage for better treatment adherence and healthier behaviors while also rewarding the best service providers.

The ability to connect islands of data around the patient holds significant potential for accelerating the pace and lowering the cost of medical innovation. It's time for us to go the last mile — to the patient.

Kris Joshi, Ph.D., is an executive vice president of Change Healthcare, one of the nation's largest independent healthcare IT companies.


The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.


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