Report suggests most hospitals are now sharing data

Some critics see big data as a meaningless buzzword when it comes to health care, but many experts believe that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will emphasize participation in health information exchanges during stage 3 of the meaningful use program. This means that hospitals must be prepared not only to share data within their own networks, but to securely send and receive it from other providers as well.

As some practices struggle with electronic health record implementation, the average observer may think that the industry has little hope when it comes to big data sharing. However, a recent report conducted jointly by Hospitals & Health Networks magazine, the American Hospital Association, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, McKesson Technology Solutions and AT&T found that 67 percent of hospitals surveyed share critical patient information with other off-network specialists and providers.

Making the list
H&HN has been compiling the "Most Wired" list for 16 years, and the most recent publication offers an accurate picture of how American hospitals are using patients' information. The news source identified 375 organizations across the country that have leveraged health information technology to connect with other professionals where no links existed before.

On top of the 67 percent of hospitals that already participate in health information exchanges, the report found that 36 percent of facilities on the list aggregate data from appointment for entry into an anonymized community health record to improve population health strategies. Another 43 percent make data from test results and physician notes available for patients to access online. Finally, 69 percent of hospitals reviewed data on case files and outcomes to retroactively gauge responses to improve quality of care in the future.

"The Most Wired data show that shared health information allows clinicians and patients to have the information they need to promote health and make the most informed decisions about treatments," Rich Umbdenstock, president and chief executive officer of the AMA, said in a statement. "Hospitals, their clinicians and their communities are doing tremendous work to enhance their IT systems in ways that support care and delivery improvement, and patient engagement goals."

Where are these hospitals?
Even though large hospital systems are the traditional leaders when it comes to health IT, some facilities on the list, such as Moscow, Idaho's Gritman Medical Center, are as rural as they come. GMC was one of only two facilities in Idaho to make the list and one of the few rural institutions in the state to participate in the Idaho Health Data Exchange.

So how does GMC turn a small number of beds and low patient-engagement rates into comprehensive health IT policies? According to chief executive officer Kara Besst, the answer is simple.

"Focusing on our patients and being able to deliver high-quality care," Besst told H&HN. "Our board is very involved. [An external IT firm] has done a nice job of putting together a strategic IT plan and presenting it to our board on a regular basis. They know where we are and where we are going. And they've been involved since before the push for meaningful use."

Working toward HIEs
Data sharing will only grow more popular in the future, and H&HN provided some tips for organizations that wish to make the Most Wired list in the future. The magazine urged providers to focus on their technological infrastructures, business management strategies, clinical quality and safety measures, and integration of technology solutions into daily workflows.

Without these, organizations are at risk of spending massive resources on bringing technology while failing to make use of it in a meaningful way.