Editor’s Note: John H. Hammergren is chairman, president and chief executive officer of McKesson Corporation.
How often do we visit the doctor’s office and think, “This again?” when handed a long medical form to fill out? Don’t we all wonder why our medical information can’t be automatically transferred from our primary care physician to the specialist? Or to the hospital or outpatient surgery center?
The answer is this: we don’t currently have a national network of connectivity that allows for the safe and secure sharing of health information between all locations of care or with patients. The good news is that such a system is possible and, with the right industry and political leadership, could be in place in the next few years. But it won’t happen without consumer engagement.
Why should consumers care about sharing their health information – aside from the aggravation of repeatedly filling out the same forms?
We should care because we are all patients and currently we are at the mercy of a disconnected healthcare system. The status quo leads to fragmented and lower quality patient care. Wouldn’t it be better for patients if emergency department staff had immediate access to a patient’s medical history and medications? Wouldn’t it be better for the patient if, when filling a prescription, their pharmacist could see all prescribed medicines to check for drug interactions? And wouldn’t it be better if we could view our health information in the comfort of our home any time, day or night?
There are hurdles to overcome before a national system to share medical information becomes a reality. Today, many in the healthcare industry have been narrow in their approach to supporting a robust network of connectivity. Some healthcare IT vendors and even some providers focus exclusively on the patient’s electronic health record (EHR), arguing that if it’s technically possible to share a patient’s information from point A to point B or from EHR to EHR (often for a fee), then they’ve “checked the box” and achieved connectivity.
But this is a shortsighted view – and puts the needs of the patient last. If it is acceptable to claim success when two healthcare IT systems can technically communicate – but are not actively sharing information – then the bar is set far too low. Patients deserve better; we all deserve better. Our nation needs a broader, seamless system of interconnectivity that allows providers and patients to have the right information for the right patient at the right time, regardless of the technology platform used or the location of care.
As healthcare reform continues to evolve, the care choices that consumers have will also evolve. Patients are already receiving care in a variety of new settings and monitoring their care with an array of tools. The rapid proliferation of mobile applications and the increasing adoption of telehealth services will also give healthcare providers additional patient information—often in real-time. These new tools will also allow for the creation of personalized health and treatment plans for individual patients.
True connectivity will allow the patient, their providers and a patient’s designated caregivers to see a complete view of their health record, creating more engaged, informed patients and caregivers. A successful network also will put the needs of the patient first to ensure that the patient’s entire care team has 24/7 access to all of the information necessary to select the most effective care plan and support services.
The benefits of real healthcare connectivity are numerous—but how will such a system be achieved?
Fortunately, the healthcare technology industry is already at work creating the infrastructure framework needed for a truly connected system. Trade alliances such as the CommonWell Health Alliance, comprised of competitors, providers and patient groups, are creating a seamless flow of patient health information between hospitals, doctor’s offices, labs, pharmacies and nursing homes—regardless of the technology platform used at each location of care. In Chicago this week, stakeholders are gathering at HIMSS, a major health IT conference, and healthcare connectivity will be a major point of discussion. Through sustained collaboration and ongoing dialogue, industry partnerships are making the safe and secure sharing of health information a reality.
What role can consumers play in moving the ball down the field? As patients and consumers, we play the most important role. We should insist on the same level of connectivity in healthcare that we have come to expect in so many areas of our connected lives. We should refuse to settle for paper forms and incomplete information. Instead, we should demand a seamless, interconnected system that provides access to the right health information regardless of where we receive care.
If you are interested in participating in the dialogue about creating a national system to safely and securely share patient data, I encourage you to share your thoughts with your federal representative. There is a strong interest in Congress to address this issue in the current legislative session.
But you should also talk with your physician about your desire to have online access to your complete medical records. At your next medical appointment, when you’re handed a piece of paper to fill out, ask whether the information will be available for use by other medical professionals who may be involved in your care—specialists, labs, pharmacists, etc. A vocal consumer population is a critical ingredient to make the patient’s needs and wants heard as we build out a truly connected healthcare system.