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This year has been a survey-loaded year for the books. With the pandemic and political environments, independent survey companies have been asking for Americans’ feedback on a variety of topics. But one survey jumped out to us, and we felt it was worth sharing and discussing. A Pew survey was conducted to highlight healthcare and patient health data issues that recent federal regulations are aiming to solve. And the results, based on participant opinions, offer an insight into what patients really want right now – better access to their patient health data.

The Survey’s Purpose

The Pew Charitable Trusts assembled focus groups with an emphasis on federal regulations that would help healthcare providers exchange information. More precisely, this survey looks to uncover sentiments about how patients get their electronic health records (EHR) now, including on their mobile devices. The regulations are enacted by the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC,) the agency tasked with oversight and improvement of EHRs.

Data Sharing Is Important Now More than Ever

Participants in this survey supported measures taken to help improve data sharing between healthcare providers as well as with patients. With a looming pandemic, healthcare and patient health data are ever critical. It’s clear participants recognize a need to prioritize efforts to improve interoperability and data exchange technology now more than ever. In general, the opinions signify most everyone is agreeable to the sharing of health records between all healthcare providers. But there are some within the industry who are still hesitant about sharing sensitive information, raising privacy concerns. Sensitive topics mentioned included social factors like housing insecurity, as well as mental health, substance abuse history, and behavioral health.

A Rush to Interoperability

Healthcare industry providers have already been moving toward a streamlined way to collect and share patient health data. But in recent months, it’s been more of a ‘pedal to the metal’ kind of pace to improve the digital access to data and the patient journey. Patients are exploring telehealth options and looking for virtual ways to connect with their providers and patient health data. Those organizations that haven’t caught up to the digital conducive environment are racing to do so now. And those who already have interoperability ecosystems in place are looking for ways to improve their patient health data sharing capabilities.

When lawmakers passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) passed back in 2009, the government hoped to push health systems to adopt Health Information Exchanges (HIEs.) And since then, health systems have all attempted upgrades. However, challenges still remain as each platform features its own customizations, clinical terms, and technical specs, making data sharing between platforms difficult. True interoperability is still not yet standardized or normalized for everyone.

Solutions to the Data Sharing Challenges

One of the most popular solutions that healthcare providers and companies are adopting are application programming interfaces (APIs.) Many are leveraging this technology in a way to provide secure channels for funneling EHRs between different systems and platforms. At the patient level, being able to view health records, manage prescriptions, and schedule labs from a mobile device is significant. APIs present a host of solutions, including improvement of analytics, workflow efficiencies, as well as improving the patients’ journeys.

Others suggest the answer to interoperability issues is machine learning and artificial intelligence. Both continue to become more popular as a method for formatting and standardizing codes, as an example. If a patient wants to see a list of his or her allergies, machine learning tools can help different systems using different codes for allergies to synch and communicate. But machine learning is complex and really only becomes effective if the patient health data is high-quality and programmed to execute accordingly.

The Keys to Giving Patients What They Really Want

When it comes to an authentic interoperability model, simplification and change occurs at three primary levels, including structural, foundational, and semantic. Additionally, there are a few primary metrics that will help drive a better data-sharing ecosystem industrywide. Of course, a wider adoption of data sharing standards is one of them. But it’s also imperative that lawmakers bring more uniformity to guidelines and laws regarding privacy and protection. Neither of these can really be controlled at the company level.

New benchmarks are already in place for 2021, including the latest requirement for all payers to implement application programming interface solutions. This requirement is one step in the right direction for the widespread adoption of APIs in an effort to streamline interoperability across the industry. These steps will drastically advance the playing field in allowing patients to have access to their clinical data across a variety of platforms.

While your healthcare-based organization may not be able to have a direct effect on what the industry does as a whole or what lawmakers determine, there are key interoperability steps you can be taking in 2021 to help give patients what they really want. Selecting health IT software platforms and setting up internal data collecting and sharing systems is entirely decided by the healthcare companies individually. As you evaluate your organization’s efforts, you can look for a widely accepted standard health IT incorporation. You will want to measure improvements to EHR integration and monitor results at the point of care. As a final metric, you’ll want to look for strategies that help enhance patient matching capabilities, as well.

What the Pew Survey Means for Your Organization

These latest Pew survey results may not be a surprise. The healthcare industry has already been shifting to embrace a more seamless transition of patient health data sharing. The patient journey is becoming more of a priority in a digital sense, as are the secure methods of data collection and sharing between varying platforms. If you’re not focused on your company’s interoperability improvements, you might consider reworking your strategy this year. And if you need a partner to help your organization launch or expand in an existing space, Softheon can help. Improving the patient experience through technology is our core focus, and augmenting providers’ interoperability can be achieved with the right strategy.