The beginning of a new year always prompts the same things: renewed vigor, bolstered inspiration, and new year’s resolutions that match. This tradition isn’t lost on the healthcare space either, as every year we see talks of new initiatives for making medical computer systems and EHRs truly interoperable and making patient data more transparent. 2020 is, of course, no exception. However, some promising news makes 2020 and the next five years a rather special case. 

Not too long ago, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the 2020-2025 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, a plan of action for incorporating new health tech in such a way as to improve the overall effectiveness of care. Unsurprisingly, interoperability and patient data access were two very prevalent topics of discussion within the plan itself.

And with the ONC’s plan having passed the 90-day window for review in the Office of Management and Budget last month, there could be some merit in discussing the plan’s push for patient data transparency and how that could lend itself to greater interoperability in the next few years.      

Making Patient Data Accessible

In reality, the issue being tackled today has remained the same for quite some time. Healthcare providers and facilities have made admirable strides in the use of new technologies such as EHRs, but none of the patient data taken in with this tech is actually being made available to patients. Not only that, this data isn’t made accessible to healthcare providers across different networks, not without considerable hassle at least. 

This is something both the ONC and the industry as a whole have begun to realize needs to change. In fact, the ONC even observed that 60% of patients in 2019 were given access to their health records and, of those patients, 40% exercised that right in the past year, both of these numbers being considerably higher than they were in 2018. Not only does this hint at healthcare providers’ understanding of the need for patient data transparency, it shows that patients themselves are beginning to realize how important it is to have unfettered access to their data. 

In the wake of such industry-wide shifts, the ONC’s plan calls for apps that will make access to patient data streamlined and readily available. By allowing third party developers to throw their hats into the patient data ring as well, the goal is to eliminate the private interests of businesses that currently have that data locked away. 

Opening up the market in this way, according to the plan, will also encourage innovation and competition in the health IT space that will hopefully result in “new solutions for better care and improved outcomes.” Naturally, this would also give patients more agency in which apps and programs they choose to use since prices for these services will also be made more transparent.

What Benefits Will Patient Data Access Bring?

We’ve already mentioned above to some degree the benefits of embracing patient data transparency, but they hardly end there. Truth of the matter is, opening up patient data for easier access stands to help healthcare break ground on several other industry shifts the space has been chipping away at until now.  

Patient Empowerment

Healthcare providers have realized that keeping the patient at the center of healthcare service is key. The more of an active role a patient plays and the more they understand about their conditions and treatments, the better their outcomes. This push towards patient data transparency only serves to further stimulate these positive trends. 

For example, having access to information such as their current health and their projected results should they follow doctor’s orders will motivate patients to self-manage symptoms and increase healthy behaviors. 

Furthermore, since part of the ONC’s plan involves making healthcare costs more transparent as well, patients will have more information on the quality of care they’re receiving. This allows them to find facilities that deliver more quality at a price they can afford while also enticing providers to move towards a more value-based care system.  

Value-Based Care 

Value-based care refers to payment for healthcare services being linked to performance and patient outcomes rather than simply charging a flat fee for different procedures. The goal of this shift being to incentivize providers to deliver better care, cutting down on medical errors while also improving patient satisfaction and outcomes. 

Conveniently, making patient data and healthcare costs freely accessible as per the ONC’s plan allows patients to make more educated decisions on which provider they turn to. This in turn incentivizes providers to deliver better care based around value and effectiveness since they’ll now be competing with other providers who are now more visible to the average patient.

In addition, the sheer availability of patient data makes delivering value-based care easier as well. By having more accessible data on a variety of patients, providers can draw deeper insights on the health of grander patient populations, making population health management much more approachable.   

Interoperability

Healthcare interoperability is an ever-elusive ideal providers have been chasing for seemingly forever. After all, being able to seamlessly share data across networks and providers without concern would make caring for patients much easier, especially if they’re normally bounced from facility to facility or require very specialized treatment.

If patients are given access to their healthcare data, sharing that data becomes as simple as handing their phone to their doctor. No more worrying about what data is transferable between different EHRs, no more worrying about HIPAA compliant messaging between doctors. Data can be shared quickly and easily, meaning care doesn’t need to take a back seat to EHR compatibility.  

How Will Health IT Help Reach Patient Data Goals?

This all sounds well and good, but how will healthcare IT shift and adapt to meet the needs of this new transparency in patient data? The answer is tech will essentially keep transforming in the way it has been for quite some time. We’ll likely continue to see the embracing of wearable technology since they provide such valuable insight for practices like population health management and clinical collaboration

In fact, the hike in popularity for wearables will likely surge exponentially due to third parties now being able to gain access to patient health. Google’s recent acquisition of Fitbit and partnerships with Ascension are a pretty apparent harbinger for that. Apple is even beginning to develop their Apple Watch into a medical-monitoring device according to their last few public announcements

Having such heavy hitters now in the healthcare device manufacturing game might seem daunting, but already we are seeing concerns levied at the security of patient data left in the hands of such large and public companies. Device manufacturers looking to compete with wearables or portable tech such as medical grade tablets must narrow their focus on health data security with authentication hardware such as RFID readers, CAC readers, or even biometric scanners. 

Furthermore, the Apple Watch and comparable devices from Google are primarily consumer grade. Manufacturers for the health space specifically will want to double down on their specialization in that field. Consider features such as antimicrobial bodies and fanless designs that won’t circulate harmful bacteria.   

2020 Could be Big for Interoperability

Interoperability has seemed like a far-fetched goal for quite some time, but, should patient data transparency be embraced fully, 2020 and beyond might finally show us some broken ground on creating a truly interconnected, collaborative, value-based healthcare system. For more information on how you can embrace this call for interoperability in your own facility, contact an expert from Cybernet today to learn what tech you can’t go without