Survey: Secondary use of electronic health data will improve care, cut costs

By Diana Manos
10:21 AM

The secondary use of data collected in electronic medical records will be the key to greater quality and cost savings in the next five years, according to a new report.

The report, released Thursday by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), based on a survey of more than 700 individuals representing providers, payers and drug companies, found that three-quarters agree that the secondary use of health record information will be their organization's greatest asset.

The data that could be mined from a health system can improve patient care, predict public health trends and reduce healthcare costs, but PWC found that a lack of standards, privacy concerns and technology limitations are holding back progress.

Daniel Garrett, partner and leader of PWC's health industries technology practice, said the potential of secondary health information has yet to be realized.

"The implementation of electronic health records is an enormous investment for healthcare providers and for the industry, but the bigger challenge will be in trying to make use of the wealth of information within the U.S. health system that has been trapped in paper silos, just waiting to be unlocked and leveraged," Garrett said. "Healthcare organizations need to work together to overcome barriers and foster collaboration and innovation."

According to PWC, the healthcare industry won't see the full value of investments in electronic medical records and other health IT investments until it finds secondary uses for the information being gathered.

Ninety percent of executives surveyed by PWC said the industry needs better guidelines on how health information can be used and shared. Seventy-six percent said national stewardship over, or responsibility for, the use of the health data should be regulated.

In its report "Transforming Healthcare through Secondary Use of Health Data," PWC calls for a public-private collaboration and a role for government in creating incentives for the private sector to collect, share and use health data. The report also urges public-private partnerships to establish standards and redefine technical architecture to allow interoperability.

PWC found that the secondary use of health data is still in its infancy but is expected to grow exponentially as health IT implementation is fueled by federal stimulus funds.

The study comes as the federal government prepares to release some $20 billion in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for providers to collect health data and use it meaningfully.

PWC research also found:

* Nine in 10 healthcare executives believe that the secondary use of health information will significantly improve the quality of patient care and offers the promise of even greater benefits in the future.
* Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of health organizations say they expect their secondary data use to increase significantly within the next two years.
* Among organizations already using some form of secondary data, 59 percent have seen quality improvements, 42 percent have achieved cost savings, 36 percent have seen patient/member satisfaction improve and 29 percent have increased revenue.
* Providers who are not using secondary data say the number one reason is lack of EHR implementation, not because they are opposed to the concept. Health plans are farthest behind in their secondary use of data despite their vast repository of comprehensive claims information from physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and dentists.
* Ninety percent of pharmaceutical companies have limited or no access to health information contained in electronic health records.
* Most health organizations that use secondary data do so for their own quality monitoring and reporting and for identifying areas that need quality improvement.