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Bracing for the Great Health Care Information Interchange

As the health care industry moves forward into a connected age under the Affordable Care Act and other regulation and legislation, it becomes clear just how much work there is to do. That includes the basics of automating information exchange among all manners of service providers. And that is going to be one sticky proposition.

Normally you might expect the topic of data interchange relegated to an IT discussion and not fodder for someone with an MBA in health administration. But executives and managers face a time when the difference between IT operations and strategy quickly disappears.

According to HealthData Management, 60 percent of hospitals exchanged health information with outside providers last year. That’s up 51 percent over 2008. The growth is understandable for two reasons. The first is that much of health care is the collection, storage, and analysis of data. Whether text, numbers, or images, that information represents the state of patients and their diagnoses and prognoses. The second: if health care is to survive as an industry and not price itself out of affordability for most people, it must become radically more efficient.

Connecting hospitals with outside providers is key to care efficiency. The third parties typically include testing facilities, primary care physicians, specialists, physical therapists, and many other practitioners and experts who offer much of the actual care that uncovers baseline information for patients that is needed for diagnosis and treatment. In addition, these are the people and entities that will provide further care after hospitalization. But the range of data being exchanged is inadequate:

Nevertheless, hospital HIE [health information exchange] with outside providers varied by data type. Though more than half of hospitals exchanged laboratory results (57 percent) and radiology reports (55 percent) with outside providers, fewer exchanged clinical care summaries (42 percent) and medication history (37 percent). In addition, only four in ten hospitals could send and receive secure electronic messages containing patient health information to and from external systems and a little more than half were able to electronically request and retrieve patient health information from sources outside their organization.

Care delivery organizations must bring their systems to compliance with developing technical standards. They must also invest the amounts necessary to tie themselves into a greater delivery system. Technology must follow the needs of practice, but both must grow according to strategy and management. Those in charge of health care need to understand enough of the technical underpinnings of what they are trying to achieve to know whether they are on the right track or waiting on a bad connection.

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