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Making electronic health records talk to each other

Mar 14 2016

Electronic health records (EHRs) can give doctors on-the-spot information about a patient’s medical history, allergies, medications, test results and other critical information. These are tools to help doctors provide safer, more integrated and more effective care more quickly. But the problem is there are many different EHR platforms in use. Patient information is often captured in different EHRs when they see different doctors.

The challenge, says Brian Ahier, director of standards and government affairs at Aetna’s Medicity, is interoperability. That means getting the different electronic health record systems at doctor’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies and more to communicate and exchange data with each other.

Only when that happens can patient data be readily available to patients and their care teams no matter where they are. The benefits aren’t limited to individual patients, Ahier stressed. Clinicians and researchers can use patient data from across systems to improve population health management and clinical outcomes.

“The U.S. has made important progress to modernize the collection and storage of health information,” Ahier said. “Through government programs such as the HITECH Act and Meaningful Use, patient health information is now largely collected and stored in electronic health records. Now we need to take the next steps, and make sure these records are connected and available when needed.”

Today, only 40 percent of hospitals and 14 percent of doctors share data outside their organization. Even fewer receive information from a health information exchange – a technology solution that helps different parts of the health care system communicate.

There certainly are barriers to overcome. First and most critical, there are no universally adopted standards for health information technology systems, and many of the systems out there are proprietary. Some may be set up to push data out to other systems, but they don’t allow other systems to pull information out when needed. Finally, privacy concerns are always at the forefront, so solutions have to be found that allow the sharing of information with strict security controls.

Aetna and Medicity, which provides connectivity and population health management solutions, are working with industry and policymakers to promote interoperability. They are urging the adoption of solutions including open standards (not dependent on a particular company’s IT product); public application programming interfaces (APIs) to facilitate data exchange; and the evolution of the government’s Meaningful Use program and properly aligned incentives to encourage interoperability.

“Aetna is working to turn data into actionable information, and give doctors and hospitals the tools they need to give better care at lower costs,” Ahier said. “When doctors everywhere can securely share patient data more effectively, their patients will benefit.”