June 22, 2020            By  Eric Lindsey and David Bjork

How COVID-19 will impact data accessibility and data sharing 

In 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act which was designed to accelerate medical product development and bring new innovations to patients faster and more efficiently. On March 9th, just as the response to COVID-19 in the US was escalating, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) issued final rules covering provisions of the Cures Act focused on interoperability and patient data access. These new provisions cover access, exchange and use of electronic health information and address industry-wide information blocking practices.

Patient control is a central component to the drive toward a value-based health care system. Putting patients in charge of their health records is key to enabling this control.  More specifically, patient control and access to their data  enables the health care system to deliver:

  • Transparency into the cost and outcomes of their care
  • Competitive options in getting medical care
  • Modern smartphone apps to provide convenient access to records

The COVID pandemic has the potential to be a catalyst to this important trend.

“At a time when the healthcare system could be under stress with the handling of the COVID virus, the urgent need for coordinated, integrated care could not be clearer,” Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said.

In part 7 of our series on how COVID-19 will impact the US Healthcare industry, Commonwelath Health Advisors focuses on how patient health information is accessed and shared.

The federal regulatory bodies have formed clear guidelines on data access and sharing, but will our new realities change the speed of adoption? Will the need for a coordinated public health response to the pandemic accelerate compliance with the ruling by health systems? Will individuals have such a heightened sensitivity to managing their own health, demand and rapidly adopt solutions upon release? 

Patient demand for services requiring interoperability will increase.

The Cures Act will reduce barriers and force innovation.  At the same time, individuals will see the need to take control of their own health records and be less willing to be dependent on a healthcare system retrenching to deal with pandemic conditions.

How much of this will we see in 2020 and 2021?  Which companies will be trusted by consumers to manage their health information?

There will be a resurgence in focus on HIE and other similar forms of clinical data sharing.

The pandemic highlights clear gaps in access to data across providers and health systems. The shift to virtual care will force adoption of new approaches to capturing and sharing data. Providers are rapidly organizing themselves to deliver virtual care and support various forms of digital engagement for their patients and will increasingly benefit from efficient access to electronic clinical record access.

Will the HIE marketplace restart where it left off several years ago? Will the Veterans Health Information Exchange (VHIE), which is set to deploy in 2020 help to trigger the refocus?

Health systems and provider organizations will use rapid adoption of data sharing to differentiate with consumer patients.

Providers are in a market that has become increasingly competitive. The ability to provide access through a digital front door, exceptionally good choices for specialty care and a convenient, consumer-friendly experience has been helping new market players to grow a substantial patient following.  It stands to reason that data sharing, data release, and supporting data records controlled by the individual will be another way to differentiate.