New data from HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology show that the percentage of hospitals that electronically exchange patient information with other providers outside of their own healthcare organizations has dramatically increased over the past five years.

Rise in Patient Data Exchanged Infographic 1

Dramatic Rise in Hospital Exchanging Patient Data

The new ONC report says 69 percent of hospitals shared patients' health information with non-affiliated ambulatory care providers in 2014, and 62 percent did so with non-affiliated hospitals. The percentages are up dramatically in just five years: 38 percent and 19 percent, respectively, in 2010.

Is it where we ultimately want to be? No. But if you look at where we were, that's tremendous progress, and it gives me great hope for the future.

The ability to share and access clinical data in real time regardless of care setting is essential if we want to improve patient outcomes and reduce unnecessary health care costs.

The type of patient health information that's being shared also creates opportunities.

Rise in Patient Data Exchanged Infographic 2

Patient Data Being Shared Enables Sound Medical Decision-Making

The ONC looked at four types of patient health information shared by hospitals with non-affiliated providers: laboratory results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries and medication histories. The percentage of hospitals sharing that data varied by type of information: 69 percent shared laboratory results; 65 percent shared radiology reports; 64 percent shared clinical care summaries; and 58 percent shared medication histories.

From a physician's perspective, having this basic patient health information available to me from other providers gives me a solid base of clinical data from which I can make informed medical decisions on how best to treat a patient. A problem list, medication list, and allergies alone can be a great start when evaluating a patient. As humans, we are still limited in how much information we can consume, so we need to be mindful of how the information is delivered and work to make it both accurate and concise.

That said, the range of percentages documented in the ONC report tells me that we can do a better job of sharing some of the patient health information that clinicians need to make informed medical decisions. Lab results are the most shared, and that should be no surprise because we've had accurate, consistent, industry-wide standards for exchanging lab results for years. Patients and providers use multiple labs, and we know how to move that information around.

We are now starting to apply the same approach to patient medication histories as accurate and consistent and industry-wide standards for collecting and exchanging medication histories are implemented. Capturing and sharing that information is difficult because patients get their prescriptions and medications from multiple doctors and pharmacies. It's important to remember that after compiling a medication list from multiple sources, one still does not know if the patient is actually taking those medications. However, having that information at the point of care creates an opportunity to work with patients to get the “right” list.

Other Barriers to Interoperability Are Falling

Such technical advances and standards opportunities in the clinical documentation architecture are more reasons I'm optimistic that we're heading in the right direction on health IT interoperability.

Beyond the ONC numbers and the technology, you also have a new mindset by providers and patients that will drive us across the interoperability finish line.

  • Providers are less likely to view patient data as proprietary --moving away from the old structures which sometimes incentivized them to restrict sharing clinical data in an effort to discourage patients from seeking care outside of their own system.
  • Providers recognize that sharing clinical data can eliminate unnecessary and duplicative diagnostic tests, improving patient safety and reducing costs. That's a business imperative as the industry shifts to value-based reimbursement models.
  • Patients expect access to their own health information and expect it to be available to their providers whenever and wherever they seek care.

The numbers in the new ONC report are numerical evidence that efforts to create technical standards for data sharing along with new business models and rising customer expectations are accelerating the drive to health IT interoperability.

Michael Blackman

About the author

Michael Blackman, M.D., is chief medical officer at McKesson.
Learn more about McKesson’s Better Health 2020 initiative to promote the strategic use of IT solutions to improve the health status of patients and the business health of companies and organizations serving the industry.