Rules and regulations protecting consumer data often burden businesses, no matter your industry.
Rigorous consumer protections bog down financial institutions, e-commerce companies and educational organizations. These safeguards become even more demanding as consumers and government agencies call for increased transparency and access to personal data.
Healthcare is no exception. Our industry has undergone several iterations of consumer data protection rules — starting in 1996 with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, HITECH for short, became law, setting standards for electronic health records.
And, in 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act — and its rules against information blocking — began requiring organizations to provide patients with easier and broader access to their medical records.
As challenging as it is to keep up, we now recognize compelling reasons, beyond laws and the threat of penalties, for organizations to work toward giving consumers full access to their personal data.
When it comes to granting broader and easier data access for consumers, the healthcare industry offers a particularly compelling rationale. Here are the top 3 reasons (besides it is the law) to give consumers improved access to records.
1. Access Can Improve Health Outcomes
Consumers, now more than ever, want control over their healthcare. And research shows giving patients access to their electronic health records can positively impact health outcomes.
For example, one study found electronic health record (EHR) access improved patients’ ability to reduce hemoglobin A1C levels — an important indicator of diabetes control. Having access to one’s long-term data history can be valuable for chronic conditions that can often be challenging to manage.
Consumers want to manage their care. And to do so, they need access to their complete record to monitor important trends affecting their health as well as to share with other providers in coordinating care.
2. Access to Historical Health Data Can Save Money
Mergers and acquisitions, a desire for improved workflows and the need for improved interoperability have led many health systems to switch EHR platforms. These technology upgrades have created an abundance of legacy health record data.
This historical data, captured and stored in an older EHR, often sits ready for read-only access. Therefore, a patient’s full record can be trapped in multiple systems across a hospital or health system setting.
Storing historical data and maintaining these out-of-production systems can put a financial burden on hospitals and health systems. But consumers may also feel the costs of inaccessible legacy data.
When providers go live with a new EHR, for example, they must formulate a plan to migrate legacy data and access necessary historical information. Without this kind of plan in place, records of medical tests can be inaccessible and ultimately reordered, costing consumers significant out-of-pocket expenses.
3. Consumer Data Belongs to Consumers
Healthcare providers are in the business of not harm and, as an industry, we should follow their lead. Only together can we help consumers on their healthcare journeys.
To ensure their well-being, consumers need access to their records.
We have a responsibility to produce those records by the law – even in consideration of the financial commitments required to produce them.
Our industry will not benefit from restricting access to consumers’ records.
Develop a Strategy that Works for Your Business
Nearly every organization captures data about its consumers. It’s just the course of doing business in the 21st century. Outside forces like regulations, internal policies and consumer expectations impact how organizations store that data and how consumers can access it.
Businesses need to develop a clear organizational data lifecycle strategy to meet everyone’s demands. Businesses should ask:
- Do we need one person to oversee our approach to data management?
- Do we have a data governance team in place, and is it effective?
- How do we capture and share data, and how long do we need to store it?
Technology Can Inhibit or Enable Consumer Access to Data
An organization that uses technology to enable consumer access to records has acted on their data lifecycle strategy, consolidated information and ensured their active and retired systems integrate.
On the other hand, those who have not planned for data storage and access may use systems that inhibit consumers from getting what they need to improve their health.
Giving consumers their data is possible. There should be nothing stopping us from delivering because building systems that meet consumer demands will prepare us for the future.
About Tom Liddell
Tom is a Managing Partner for Harmony Healthcare IT, serving as Chief Executive Officer. He has over 30 years of experience in healthcare information technology and was President and Co-Founder of SMI, a healthcare technology firm located in Indiana. SMI was part of an initial public offering that formed Medical Manager Corp (MMC) where Tom served as a Sr. Vice President. MMC merged with WebMD where he held positions of Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, as well as Senior VP of Product Management, in which he was responsible for the development and launch of a fully integrated, award-winning health record and financial system. In 2006, Tom began the position as CEO of Michiana Health Information Network (MHIN) and CIO of a reference laboratory, pathology and blood bank. In 2007, Tom joined the board of Harmony Healthcare IT and became CEO in 2015. Today, he participates in every facet of the Harmony Healthcare IT business, providing vision and operational guidance.