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No Fees for Health Exchange Say Patients

The Society of Participatory Medicine – in conjunction with ORC International – has released survey data that indicates that three quarters of patients believe that Protected Health Information (PHI) should be easily and freely shared between hospital workers, physicians and other health care providers. The lack of sharing and poor interoperability is believed to have a serious impact on the medical care that patients receive.

According to the poll, a fifth of patients had previously experienced difficulty receiving medical care because their healthcare data was not shared between providers. A PWC survey indicated that it is not only the sharing of data that is a problem. When data is shared, in 60% of cases providers face significant delays accessing the required information.

In addition to full sharing of information between authorized individuals, 87% of patients said that they believed that access to their PHI should be free of charge. One of the issues that doctors have to face is that providing access to PHI incurs a significant cost: Healthcare providers are required to cover costs of between $5,000 and $50,000 to implement an EHR system that allows them to share PHI with other healthcare providers. On top of that cost, they are also charged for accessing patient records on the system.

According to Daniel Z. Sands, MD, MPH, co-founder and co-chair of the Society of Participatory Medicine, “We have the technology.  What we need is for health care providers and systems developers to put patient interests ahead of business needs. None of them would exist were it not for the patients.” He also said ““What this survey points out is that when critical health information can’t be shared across medical practices and hospitals, patients are put at risk.”

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A further problem, according to experts at the committee, is that “healthcare organizations use patient data as a competitive advantage, and that data-sharing is less likely to occur in competitive markets.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing this week – America’s Health IT Transformation: Translating the Promise of Electronic Health Records Into Better Care – in which it heard that one provider of EHR systems – Epic Systems – was charging healthcare providers $2.35 for access to patient records, with the charge payable per patient, per year. Epic Systems – which has a 50% market share – was the only EHR provider at the committee, although it is not the only EHR vendor that charges for EHR end-users to exchange data with other providers.

While the cost may seem small on a per patient basis, those costs can add up and are significant over the course of a year. Many healthcare providers may begrudge paying extra costs to access patient records that have been loaded into an EHR system, but they are given little alternative as the full replacement of an EHR system that may have cost $50,000 to install is not seen to be worth the time, effort and disruption for the cost savings that can be made.

Justin Lanning, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Analytics at Xerox Healthcare Provider Services, spoke with EHRInteligence.com about the matter and said “Some vendors feel that by making it harder to integrate with other vendors, health systems will choose to spend their money on all of the other little things they need to with the same vendor. But health systems are beginning to demand the integration for the flexibility they desire, and we must respond as a market.”

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.