How is interoperability affecting patient privacy?

One of the most advantageous aspects of electronic health records is that they encourage interoperability. However, many experts have feared that this may increase risks to patient privacy. Hospitals and providers using poorly functioning EHRs are beginning to find that interoperability is starting to interfere with their health data privacy policies. 

Interoperability presents problems for providers using poor EHRs
Interoperability within successful EHRs allows providers to assist their patients more effectively and efficiently. However, poor systems can introduce issues, including the potential for sensitive patient health data exchanged between unsecured pipe lines to become compromised.

Lucia Savage, the new chief privacy officer for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, recently spoke about how necessary it is that health care providers understand the importance of the current privacy regulations, stressing that the success of interoperability depends on it.

"Of course there are the topics that have been well-discussed in the press, like data lock and all that stuff that have to [do] with people's proprietary systems," Savage told "But what is really more essential in the privacy and security realm is making sure people understand how our current legal and regulatory environment actually helps support interoperability – right now, at this very moment in time."

New models for care delivery stress the need for EHR systems that are successfully interoperable, highlighting the major room for improvement for many poor EHRs. Savage referred to the large EHR systems used by insurance companies. For these systems to operate without problems, the information must flow flawlessly between both parties. However, the data is currently not flowing as efficiently as it should, putting private information at risk of security implications. If large infrastructures were built to make better use of the delivery system and catered more to meaningful use incentives, this risk would significantly decrease.

What are the next steps?
According to Savage, one major obstacle to successful interoperability is that there are many EHR systems that are limited in this area, which results in a lack of health data and information exchange. This exchange is necessary in efficient patient care.  

Another problem is that patients lack trust in their health care providers' EHR system when it comes to keeping their information safe, influencing many patients to opt out of using the system. Both public and private health care organizations and providers must use new forms that are required whenever they exchange information. They also have to ensure that they are meeting the security and privacy regulations implemented by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. 

Providers must also focus on the fact that their EHR systems have the capability to promote interoperability that facilitates physician and patient interactions and engagement. Patients should be able to put more trust in their EHR system, as it gives them access to their medical records and they're able to gather and share their data actively within the system.

To make sure the health care industry is moving forward with interoperability, the ONC will collect data and take careful notes regarding insights from experts who are particularly knowledgeable in this area. This will help the federal agency grasp a firm understanding of all the potential benefits and the possible risks of a fully interoperable health care environment. These risks and advantages will then be included in the emerging and future privacy regulations, according to EHR Intelligence.

Interoperability when used with efficient EHRs are known to make communication between doctors, other health care providers and patients much more convenient and faster. Providers are able to make better informed decisions regarding diagnoses and additional key decisions without risking their patients' privacy. Therefore, before investing in an EHR system, providers should ensure that they are choosing a high-quality vendor whose products have been tested.