Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 25, 2016

Breaking Through the Data-Sharing Barriers: Address Technology, Process and People

The good news is that the rate of hospitals electronically sending, receiving and finding key clinical information to and from providers inside and outside their systems increased from 2014 to 2015, according to a data brief issued by the Office for the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

According to the ONC brief in 2015, 85 percent of hospitals reported sending data outside their organizations, up from 78 percent in 2014; meanwhile, 65 percent reported receiving data from outside their organizations, up from 56 percent in 2014, and 52 percent cited finding key clinical information electronically versus 48 percent in 2014.

The bad news, however, is that the same report shows only 38 percent of hospitals reported using or integrating patient summary care of records from sources outside their health system – a drop from 40 percent in 2014.

This disparity between hospitals’ ability to send, receive and find information and the ability to actually integrate patient records highlights three key data exchange barriers in healthcare. Breaking through these barriers is possible, but requires strategies that address a combination of technology, process and people.

Barrier No. 1: Data Blocking

While the Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs for achieving Meaningful Use of electronic health record (EHR) technology, and the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), and other regulatory directives call for the sharing of patient information, hospitals and health systems routinely encounter difficulties sharing outside their organizations.

In fact, the ONC reports that 36 percent of hospitals indicated that their providers “rarely” or “never” use patient health information received electronically from outside their hospital system when treating their patients. Only 18 percent reported that their providers “often” use patient health information received electronically from outside their hospital system.

Financial barriers were cited by hospitals as one reason providers did not have access to patient data from other sources – 25 percent indicated that additional costs to exchange with outside providers or settings were a barrier to health data exchange.

An announcement at HIMSS16 described how companies that provide 90 percent of EHRs used by hospitals nationwide, as well as the top five largest private healthcare systems, agreed to implement three core commitments, one of which was the elimination of data blocking.

While this public commitment is an important step, it is up to the healthcare industry – vendors, providers and health systems – to encourage and work with EHR vendors to make this functionality core to their solution and either include it as part of their maintenance fees or provide it at an additional, but reasonable charge. Implementing the technology and processes to enable exchange of data benefits patients and providers, who then have more data from which to help improve medical outcomes.

Barrier No. 2: Lack of Interoperability

Interoperability is an ongoing problem for healthcare providers. Almost half of hospitals in 2015 (46 percent) reported challenges exchanging data across different vendor platforms, according to ONC.

Outdated standards or data-sharing standards that are not compatible with existing applications are common reasons for data exchange difficulties. Adding to the challenge are the many different ways clinical conditions are described – for example, the 36 ways to notate “heart attack” – and the variety of structured and unstructured data in healthcare records.

A cost-effective solution to interoperability challenges is the creation of a space between all applications to aggregate and harmonize data from disparate applications to enable easy transfer between users – regardless of application or vendor. Relying on a cloud-based platform technology that enables multiple systems to “talk” to each other allows healthcare organization to continue using existing technology while optimizing the value of data collected in each application.

The use of a managed information technology (IT) solution associated with the cloud-based “space” between applications also solves financial and human resource constraints within the already overworked hospital-based IT department. Allowing the vendor to focus on making data from all applications accessible to all users, frees the IT staff to focus on critical day-to-day operations and on their area of expertise.

Barrier No. 3: Real-time Access to Data

Data is only useful if it is available where and when the clinician needs it to make patient care decisions or health organization leaders need it to make operational decisions. Unfortunately, the ONC data brief points out that the most common reasons for not using information from other sources is that it is not easily available as part of the clinicians’ workflow (53 percent) or not available when needed (40 percent).

Siloed data in EHRs and other applications that cannot be easily exchanged limits clinicians and business leaders to using partial or “old” data to support patient care or business decisions.

While clinical and business activities require data for different reasons, the same information a clinician needs for patient care or clinical research is also important for hospital leaders to compile and analyze for accountable care organization and other regulatory reporting, revenue cycle management, best practices development and strategic planning.

Finding a “middle ground” where a platform can collect and make data available to different applications enables a healthcare organization to overcome these three data-sharing barriers. 

Healthcare organizations collect valuable data every hour – data that can improve patient outcomes and enhance quality of life. Putting the technology and processes in place to allow real-time access to data from a variety of applications and sources in a way that fits staff and clinicians’ needs and workflow produces timely patient care decisions as well as a more nimble business strategy based on current data.

About the Author

Gary Palgon is vice president of healthcare and life sciences solutions at Liaison Technologies. In this role, Gary leverages more than two decades of product management, sales, and marketing experience to develop and expand Liaison's data-inspired solutions for the healthcare and life sciences verticals. Gary's unique blend of expertise bridges the gap between the technical and business aspects of healthcare, data security and electronic commerce. As a respected thought leader in the healthcare IT industry, Gary has had numerous articles published, is a frequent speaker at conferences, and often serves as a knowledgeable resource for analysts and journalists. Gary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Florida.

Edited by Alicia Young
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. [Free eNews Subscription]
By Special Guest
Gary Palgon, VP Healthcare and Life Sciences Solutions, Liaison Technologies ,


FREE eNewsletter

Click here to receive your targeted Healthcare Technology Community eNewsletter.
[Subscribe Now]