For those who don’t realize it, your health data is being shared all over the place. Yes, we like to think that our health care data is being stored and protected and that laws like HIPAA keep them safe, but there are plenty of ways to legally share health care data today. In fact, many EHR vendors sell your health care data for a pretty penny.
Of course, many would argue that it’s shared in a way that complies with all the laws and that it’s done in a way that your health record isn’t individually identified. They’re only sharing your health data in a de-identified manner. Others would argue that you can’t deidentify the health data and that there are ways to reidentify the data. I’ll leave those arguments for another post. We’ll also leave the argument over whether all this sharing of health data (usually to marketing, pharma and insurance companies) is safe or not for a future post as well.
What’s undeniable is that health data for pretty much all of us is being bought and sold all over health care. If you don’t believe it’s so, take a minute to look at the work of Deborah Peel from Patient Privacy Rights and learn about her project theDataMap. She’ll be happy to inform you of all the ways data is currently being bought and sold. It’s a really big business.
Here’s where the irony comes in. We have no trouble sharing health data (Yes, even EHR vendors have no problem sharing data and lets be clear that not all EHR vendors share data with these outside companies but mare are sharing data) with marketing companies, payers and pharma companies that are willing to pay for access to that data. Yet, when we ask EHR vendors to share health data with other EHR vendors or with an HIE, they balk at the idea as if it’s impossible. They follow that up with a bunch of lame excuses about HIPAA privacy or the complexity of health care data.
Let’s call a spade a spade. We could pretty easily be interoperable in health care if we wanted to be interoperable. We know that’s true because when the money is there from these third party companies, EHR vendors can share data with them. The problem has been that the money has never been there before for EHR vendors to be motivated enough to make interoperability between EHR vendors possible. In fact, you could easily argue that the money was instructing EHR vendors not to be interoperable.
However, times are changing. Certainly the government pressure to be interoperable is out there, but that doesn’t really motivate the industry if there’s not some financial teeth behind it. Luckily the financial teeth are starting to appear in the form of value based reimbursement and the move away from fee for service. That and other trends are pushing healthcare providers to want interoperable health records as an important part of their business. That’s a far cry from where interoperability was seen as bad for their business.
I heard about this shift first hand recently when I was talking with Micky Tripathi, President & CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative. Micky told me that his organization had recently run a few RFPs for healthcare organizations searching for an EHR. As part of the EHR selection process Micky recounted that interoperability of health records was not only included in the RFP, but was one of the deciding factors in the healthcare organizations’ EHR selections. The same thing would have never been said even 3-5 years ago.
No doubt interoperability of health records has a long way to go, but there are signs that times are changing. The economics are starting to make sense for organizations to embrace interoperablity. That’s a great thing since we know they can do it once the right economic motivations are present.