Sharing Clinical Data Electronically

This editorial discusses challenges to seamless flow of clinical data across health care settings. In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was created to promote the meaningful use of health information technology.

Congress has allocated nearly $30 billion to help health care organizations transition to electronic systems and to allow movement of clinical data across health systems. The authors identify several challenges that could inhibit sharing of clinical information across health care settings, and then discuss how federal policy could most effectively address these challenges.

Key obstacles include:

  • absence of guidelines about data privacy and security;
  • limitations of point-to-point data exchange;
  • exclusion of significant parts of the health care system from electronic technology incentives, including long term care organizations;
  • competitive implications of data sharing for doctors and hospitals; and
  • lack of analytic tools to help physicians process increased patient data in a timely manner.

To address these concerns, the authors recommend that policy-makers: (1) provide guidance on the consequences of data breaches; (2) create incentives to make data available in a structured format, and (3) implement policies to encourage nursing homes, rehabilitation hospitals and others to adopt electronic records.