Report: Lack of eHealth standards, privacy concerns costing lives

Early detection through trending can save thousands of lives

Mining electronic patient data to discover health trends and automate life-saving health alerts for patients and their doctors will be the greatest benefit of electronic medical records (EMR), but a survey released today finds a lack of standards, privacy concerns by hospitals and patients and technology limitations are holding back progress.

Hundreds of billions of gigabytes of health information are being collected in EMRs, and three-quarters (76%) of more than 700 health-care executives recently surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP agree that mining that information will be their organization's greatest asset over the next five years, both for saving patient lives and saving money.

The executives surveyed cited "legal implications" as their greatest concern when it came to their organizations' use of secondary data, followed by privacy implications and public relations ramifications. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the executives agreed that individual and/or identifiable data can be re-used if it is in the best interest of the patient.

When asked about the barriers to secondary use of EMR data, the majority of those surveyed cited problems surrounding data, including access to electronic health records, transparency, quality and management. Fewer than half of providers, for example, have fully implemented all but the most basic functions of electronic health record.

An insufficient level of detail and integration tied with data timeliness were cited as the next two biggest problems in using secondary data. Variability in data entry makes many stakeholders, especially doctors, question the quality of the information being generated by the IT system.

While the portability of electronic patient data is most often hyped as the greatest benefit to implementing EMR systems, mining health-care databases to track national health trends as well as to alert physicians to a particular patient's pending health problems will not only save lives, but cut long-term costs by catching diseases and infections early. By catching them early, the impact can either be negated all together or minimized.

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