Health data exchange: Paper's not dead yet

Despite increased participation in health information exchanges, U.S. hospitals are struggling to share patient data with each other in "meaningful ways," according to a new report published this week by HIMSS Analytics.

For the report, HIMSS Analytics surveyed 157 senior hospital IT executives; 51 percent of survey respondents were CIOs, and 39 percent identified themselves as IT or information services directors. While 73 percent of respondents said they participated in a health information exchange, only 20 percent said that data sharing improved patient safety at their facility; even fewer (12 percent) said that data sharing resulted in time savings for clinicians.

Close to half the respondents (49 percent) said that the biggest challenge of sharing data with an HIE was that other participating organizations were not sharing data "robustly." Respondents also pointed to lack of staffing (44 percent) and limited financial resources (40 percent) as hurdles to HIE participation.  

"Based on high participation numbers, hospitals clearly understand the value of electronic sharing of health-related information among organizations and the important role it can play in improving the speed, quality, safety and cost of patient care," Jennifer Horowitz, senior director of research for HIMSS Analytics, said in a statement. "But meaningful engagement between healthcare organizations and easy ways to share patient information, both in paper and electronic formats, still remain a challenge."

What's more, many respondents indicated that paper still played a prominent role in some hospitals' data sharing strategies. Sixty-four percent of respondents said that sharing information with hospitals not participating in HIEs took place via fax, while 84 percent said that they directly integrated their output/print environment with their electronic health record systems.

"For the foreseeable future, information exchange among healthcare providers will continue to include information that is documented and stored on paper," the report's authors concluded.

A report published in July by Chilmark Research determined HIEs to be in a state of flux, but moving slowly toward better care coordination and interoperability.

To learn more:
- here's the HIMSS Analytics report (.pdf)
- read the announcement