New Technology Is Closing The Health Data Gapadmin
The “health data gap” refers to an increasing problem moving patient information among healthcare providers and facilities. There is often sufficient patient data collected to allow continuous care between providers, but many physicians cannot access this information across different practices or hospitals. Even as healthcare providers strive to “go paperless,” digital records are commonly not available beyond a particular network of providers or an individual facility.
The inability to transfer data from one system to another is a major challenge for seniors who face a transfer between facilities (e.g. moving from a hospital to a skilled nursing facility) or between healthcare providers. Not only is continuity of care disrupted, but patients who fall through the health data gap are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital or retreated for the same condition. The solution to the health data gap lies in new technologies that can centralize patient information and in raised awareness among practitioners about the benefits of better data sharing.
Falling Through the Health Data Gap
The informational crisis created by the health data gap is causing problems for everyone in the healthcare industry, including professionals and patients alike. According to Health Affairs, an estimated $25 to $35 billion is wasted each year due to a lack of information communicated at the time of a care transfer. When a patient is discharged from a hospital stay or moved to a care facility, primary care physicians are often never informed about the stay or transfer, nor do they receive details about needed follow-up care.
This lack of data exchanged between the discharging facility and other healthcare providers often leads to readmission of senior patients, risking the patient’s health and driving up healthcare costs. In many cases there is no financial incentive for hospitals to prevent these readmissions since Medicare will cover the expense as long as it occurs 24 hours after the initial discharge. Even when everyone providing care is willing to transfer data, differences in digital record-keeping systems often prevents the needed exchange of information from taking place.
Closing the Health Data Gap with New Technology
A possible solution to the problem is a centralized system for healthcare data, which would help bridge the data gap between providers. For example, companies like Advantmed are tracking patient recordsto lower the risk of seniors not receiving adequate care due to mishandling of information. When services provided are not documented, or when a recommended service never occurs, Advantmed steps in to correct the issue. This leads to both better care for senior patients and higher standards for hospitals and other facilities not currently exchanging records as needed.
The California Healthcare Foundation points to improved “flow” or “throughput” systems as a solution for crowded, underfunded facilities. Say a patient is admitted to a hospital through the emergency room. They receive a tracking bracelet that allows staff to physically follow their progress through the hospital. If a test is ordered, the diagnostic department is immediately notified and all patient information is transferred to the technician digitally. This reduces the amount of time patients wait for services and shortens their overall stay. It also builds a detailed file to hand off to primary care physicians or skilled nursing care after discharge.
Potential Obstacles With Implementing New Technology
There are still a few obstacles to consider. First, the process of uploading tons of physical documents into digital systems is a major logistical issue. This process typically involves scanning and tagging documents, which is time-consuming and still does not make a patient’s data digitally accessible in the fullest sense. Information from their files are not not typically searchable in a database from a scanned document.
Another problem are HIPPA laws, which were established to protect patient information but can make the collection and transference of patient data difficult or impossible. While these laws are prohibitive in the US, other nations are beginning to create larger healthcare data systems that may serve as a model for US healthcare in the near future.
The health data gap is likely to begin closing up as more providers see the benefits of collecting and sharing patient data. Physicians who use risk-based payment models are embracing technological advances in patient data to help them provide better estimates of care costs. They report being able to give patients more streamlined and effective care since data sharing allows them to cooperate with specialists and keep track of services provided outside their practice.
Moving Forward with Health Data
The healthcare industry is working to keep up with advances in patient data technology. The good news for seniors at this moment is that technological advances are already improving patient conditions as physicians and facilities start implementing new data practices. As current obstacles like digitizing paper documents and complying with HIPPA standards are overcome, patients can expect smoother transfers between facilities and a more cooperative approach among care providers thanks to a narrowing of the health data gap.