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Safely sharing patient info has obstacles, but when carried out effectively it can benefit both provider and patient:


On the Importance of Patient Data

In the last few years, the importance of patient data has been stressed in a variety of ways. There has been increased attention on the electronic medical record (EMR), and how clinicians and patients can easily and safely access it. Because of the increased prevalence of the EMR, there has also been increased interest in how to effectively share information amongst health systems.

The trend towards sharing patient information has been fraught with many obstacles to ensure adequate protection, but when carried out effectively, the benefits to both the provider and patient are worth the effort. Take, for example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which links patient information across state-lines. In this setting, regardless of where patients initially received care, their information can be seen from anywhere within the network. 

This model has been mirrored in non-government organizations as well. More and more, hospitals are encouraging physicians affiliated with the hospital to use similar networks so that inpatient encounters can be seen once a patient is discharged, and hospitalists can view the most recent outpatient notes as well. But what about patients who use different hospital systems for different aspects of care? Wouldn’t it be nice to have one large network of hospitals that share information so that regardless of where a patient is seen, the most up-to-date information can be accessed?

This is, in fact, a trend within regional communities such as the city I work in – Philadelphia. Some of the hospitals are a part of an online network that allows clinicians to see scans and selected reports from other hospitals.  In doing this, patient care is more complete, and decisions about next steps are not delayed due to insufficient or incomplete data.

Of course, the idea of sharing of data is certainly easier than the actual execution.  Not to mention the fear that is expressed by many patients that too much data sharing puts them at risk for things like identity theft or inappropriate individuals getting access to their health records. It would not be fair for me to discount these fears. The biggest threats to effectively and safely sharing information across health systems are the people using the system. Firewalls, data encryptions and password-protected sites can only go so far so as to protect patient data. Having said this, as a provider I can say that when data is adequately shared and made readily available for comparison, it can help stratify findings into acute vs. chronic, and improving vs. worsening, for example. These delineations are priceless in providing adequate, high-quality care.

EMRs are here to stay. That certainly doesn’t mean that we all have to have the same EMR system, but we should start looking into how we can make those different systems link to best to serve the whole patient, taking into account old and new findings.  


American Resident Project fellows receive compensation from Anthem for sharing their perspectives on this blog. Fellows views are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Anthem, Inc.