Why HIEs are the platform for precision medicine

March 12, 2019 Dealla Smith

Healthcare expenditure is continuing to rise, now more than ever it is imperative that innovative solutions are available for healthcare organizations to contain this expenditure. Alongside this, it is important that patients continue to receive appropriate and timely healthcare to remain in the best health they can. Healthcare professionals require the right information to be available at the point of care to be able to deliver precise care.

Unfortunately, in many healthcare organizations information doesn’t flow as freely as it should. Clinicians face challenges accessing data from a patient’s electronic health record (EHR), healthcare organizations’ portals can require different logins and accessing laboratory and radiology results for patients can be difficult. There are often situations where X-rays and blood tests are repeated, driving up the total cost of a patient’s care. Duplication of tests that are not clinically indicated contribute significantly to the increasing financial burden on healthcare organizations. These result from incomplete electronic record transfers among incompatible EHR systems.

Many healthcare systems are operating with aging infrastructure and legacy computer systems which cannot share information. These disconnected systems can be encumbered with multiple credentials for numerous portals and prevent data exchange. Many healthcare organizations have different networks both within the acute hospital environment and out into the community, that contain relevant health data that could be incorporated into a more comprehensive patient health record.

Improvements in technology have changed this, enabling many healthcare organizations to achieve improved connections, by collecting and processing vast amounts of information digitally. The collection and exchange of health data is crucial to effectively managing individual patients and the population as a whole and it provides the foundation data for effectively delivering precision medicine and personalized care.

The global health industry’s shift to more personalized care requires all types of health and social data to be collected, processed and presented in a meaningful way to ensure healthcare providers have all the information they need. This ensures that care decisions are made based on a holistic view of a patient.

A health information exchange (HIE) or a health data platform provides the foundational technology for participants to access an up to date patient health record. The HIE provides the secure exchange of patient health data among diverse and unrelated healthcare organizations and EHR systems that follow industry accepted interoperability standards. This ensures access to health data from disparate clinical data sources that would otherwise be difficult for clinicians to access. The HIE captures pieces of data from a variety of sources and puts it together to provide a more complete record so that clinicians can see past care that the patient has received.

An HIE provides:

Improved access to data and patient health information
The ability to present more information about a patient paints a clearer picture and provides further context for clinicians, allowing them to make more informed decisions on treatment and care. The exchange of information goes two ways, so clinicians are also feeding back critical information into the system for other healthcare professionals who may need this information later.

Enables improved health outcomes
Secure health information sharing results in the delivery of more efficient care and provides accurate treatment plans for patients. Having a more complete set of information about a patient enables further insight into their past medical or family history, and may provide earlier identification of health issues, offering the opportunity to intervene before it reaches a later stage.

Better communication across the health system
Around the world, many people’s medical records are still managed on paper. Accessing information electronically via an HIE solution, allows healthcare providers to share and update information far more easily than on paper. This reduces a clinician’s administration workload and allows better collaboration across and within a healthcare organization.

Health data is uniquely complex, coming in many different forms that make it difficult to collect and process in one electronic system. From X-ray images, to paper-based fax referrals, laboratory results and even genomic test data, collecting all this information on a patient’s health is a challenge, but one that has significant potential to transform the future of healthcare.

Reduce the total cost of healthcare
One of the goals of an HIE is to reduce the total cost of providing high-quality healthcare and the cost of duplicated unnecessary medical tests. An HIE can present all the data in a comprehensive and secure format with the complete patient record being available when and where it is needed to facilitate optimal healthcare. Clinicians can view X-rays and laboratory tests taken from different providers creating a relevant health record. This prevents these tests being reordered and reduces the expenditure of the healthcare organization.

Beyond the collection and exchange of information, healthcare organizations that have implemented HIEs are continuing to leverage information and apply analytics to reveal all sorts of meaningful insights. Only when data is organized and accessible, can it be used to improve the understanding of a patient’s health, or the population as a whole, which is why an HIE is the foundational platform for precision medicine. An HIE’s capability to aggregate the different types of health data from a variety of sources and present it in a meaningful way makes it easy to apply analytics to extract meaningful insights.

Machine learning models could be applied to the data inside an HIE, categorizing and structuring data to reveal patterns and predict health issues amongst populations.

Clinicians would then be able to view these patterns, enabling them to proactively identify and manage at-risk patients, keeping patients out of acute care where possible and saving precious health dollars.

An example of a successful HIE is Keystone Health Information Exchange (KeyHIE®) in Pennsylvania in the United States. KeyHIE serves over 5.8 million patients and connects an array of diverse organizations. This HIE is providing better care through better availability of information. To learn more about the partnership between Orion Health and KeyHIE read the case study here.

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