Challenges aplenty around data sharing

Brian Ahier

Experts see future as both intriguing and aggravating

SEATTLE – The ever-increasing ability of both doctors and patients to send and receive healthcare data on the move is adding some weight to the health information exchange debate, but issues remain with security and a reluctance to share information.

As a result, doctors aren't jumping on the bandwagon, HIE networks are struggling to remain sustainable and providers aren't investing in the necessary technology.

That's what makes this both an exciting and a challenging time to be in healthcare, said Lynne Dunbrack, program director for IDC Health Insights, who chaired a panel discussion on HIEs to kick off the Institute for Health Technology Transformation's conference last month in Seattle. 

And while Dunbrack pointed out that the HIE space is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic markets in healthcare, panelists like Brian Ahier, a health IT evangelist for Mid-Columbia Medical Center, said the market won't take off until its participants learn to share.

"Successful organizations are no longer going to seek a competitive advantage," he said. “They are going to seek a cooperative advantage."

As the nation moves forward with healthcare reform and the concept of accountable care and patient-centered healthcare, its disparate parts are going to have to come together and share information in different formats and locations, from the rural clinic with a telemedicine program to the housewife trying to update a child's PHR to the physician seeking a consult via an iPad to an insurer making sure a member is getting the proper follow-up care after leaving a hospital. 

"It's a fundamental aspect of accountability that you have to know what's going on," pointed out Greg Fraser, MD, chief medical information officer for the WVP Health Authority, a 500-member independent physicians association based in Salem, Ore.  

But the ages-old "my-patient-my-data" philosophy still holds some weight in the provider community, where physicians and even some networks are wary of sharing data, for fear of losing valuable business. 

"It's an issue of survival to them," said John McDaniel, a former healthcare CIO and consultant who's now the national practice leader in the U.S. healthcare provider market for NetApp. Added to that, he said, is the fact that providers are using electronic medical records and other systems from a variety of vendors, and those systems don't necessarily integrate with each other or follow the same standards.

"A lot of (providers) are holding onto their investments (in HIE technology) until some sort of standard arrives," said Jim Prekop, president and CEO of the healthcare informatics company TeraMedica.