Opinion

Liberate Health Care Data

Electronic health records have been deployed at the majority of U.S. hospitals, leading patients to believe that their medical information is accessible to the clinicians they trust.

However, there are stakeholders in the electronic medical record and health insurance industries that continue to make billions of dollars in profit from selling patient data. These archaic business practices do not recognize patients as the rightful owners of their health care data or the negative impact on health outcomes.

Putting consumers in control of their health care information supports coordinated care. Everyone who collaborates in the management and treatment of patients needs to have access to data about previous treatments, diagnoses, medications and encounters with other clinicians. This is called interoperability.

Interoperability is what ensures that you can manage your money across multiple accounts, plan a dream vacation on one website, and even post photos across social networks. The barriers to sharing data in today’s health care system are numerous and have arisen from the organic development of multiple data systems that were never built to communicate with each other.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is proposing a new way of sharing information that we expect will become the standard way to share health care data. This is best described as a personal health information exchange, where the patient, not a physician, hospital or health plan, is able to grant consent and connection with whichever health care provider she or he wishes with a tap on a smartphone.

For example, a patient with heart disease can grant access to data about a recent visit to the emergency room or hospital to his or her cardiologist or primary care physician, creating visibility to a rich history of prior health care interactions, lab test results, imaging, etc. All relevant health data contained in the medical record is available when and how the individual wants. This more holistic and near-real-time view of the patient will offer all health care providers more actionable and complete information to make treatment decisions, which will ultimately lead to the elimination of duplicative care and information requests and lower administrative costs, with the goal of making health care more affordable.

While we expect this new consumer-driven model to take hold over time, it is critical to minimize short-term barriers to sharing information across the thousands of providers. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is establishing a common language that electronic health record vendors and other health care stakeholders must use with Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources. FHIR translates health care data and ensures that unnecessary tolls do not slow down its transmission.

It should be the right of the consumer, not the industry, to have control over medical records. We should accept no further delay and no more excuses. We at Humana urge all parties to come together, endorse the changes proposed by CMS and the ONC and support efforts to promote interoperability now so consumers nationwide can benefit from improved quality of care, better health and affordability.

 

Heather Cox is the chief digital health and analytics officer for Humana.

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