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Challenges Facing Healthcare Data Sharing

September 4, 2019

Healthcare technology makes it easier than ever before to gather, store, crunch, and share digital data. Then it is available to study in order to solve healthcare industry problems while enhancing the quality and effectiveness of care. But vast amounts of data can be unwieldy to organize and analyze. There are also serious issues of security and privacy that must be addressed. Data is a precious commodity, but misuse of it can create a breach of trust and legal liability.

Systematic Contradictions

More than 90 percent of those surveyed said that physician access to data can enhance quality of patient care. But less than half of those respondents said that their organizations were taking practical steps to provide such access. The study also confirmed that most health systems do not report their data in a standardized format, nor do they share it on a regular basis.

A Lack of Uniformity

Typically, there is no consistent formatting or cross-collaborative analysis. Many health system administrators also view data in a way that seems to be at cross-purposes with the perspective of their own physicians. The majority of doctors want to use data to enhance clinical outcomes, whereas most administrators are primarily focused on the cost of care.

A Meeting of Minds

There needs to be better communication and a concerted effort to find more common ground. For example, physicians and administrators could study a broader range of data that encompasses both patient-centric outcomes and the short and long-term cost of care. That kind of data sharing could help lead them to mutually beneficial decisions that cannot be illuminated without looking at a wider range of data.

One Successful Model

The $4.5 billion rural Sanford Health system harvests vast amounts of data from patients and providers. When they created explicit data-sharing contracts with other institutions, that eliminated concerns about competition and data privacy. The Sanford Data Collaborative now attracts both regional and national partners. Their sharing of data has helped to enhance innovation, quality care, patient engagement, and greater access to care.

Confusing State Regulations

Sanford hopes that their model can be replicated elsewhere, to facilitate sharing without compromising privacy, security, and trust. But while data sharing under HIPAA may seem relatively straightforward, compliance becomes extraordinarily complicated when sharing across multiple legal jurisdictions. Each state, for instance, may have its own laws. That can make it hard to understand the applicable rules and adhere to them in order to avoid liability and protect patient privacy.

A Unified Solution is Needed

Most providers recognize the urgent need to share data, but the majority of them don’t actually share theirs with other health systems. The general consensus is that there needs to be a singular, integrated health record sharing system with privacy laws that can be applied universally. The EU, for instance, has one law that applies across the board. That effectively eliminates jurisdictional confusion and helps to break down information silos for greater sharing and collaboration.

The Bottom Line

The current lack of interoperability will remain a challenge and a somewhat frustrating barrier until a new strategy is implemented. But the potential benefits of digital sharing through new technologies are incredible, and they certainly deserve an appropriate industry-wide solution.