A Seamless, Effortless Flow of Information

by Ruby Raley
Director, Healthcare Solutions

Last month, Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, wrote an open letter on healthit.hhs.gov that shared his vision of the HITECH Act’s overarching goal and some of its implications.

Blumenthal writes, “A key premise: information should follow the patient, and artificial obstacles – technical, business related, bureaucratic – should not get in the way. As a doctor, I have many times wanted access to data that I knew were buried in the computers or paper records of another health system across town. Neither my care nor my patients were well served in those instances. That is what we must get beyond. That is the goal we will pursue…”

Further down, in the same paragraph, he writes, “Exchange within business groups will not be sufficient – the goal is to have information flow seamlessly and effortlessly to every nook and cranny of our health system, when and where it is needed, just like the blood within our arteries and veins meets our bodies’ vital needs.”

The desire for a seamless, effortless flow of information, to every nook and cranny of our health system, is something I’ve talked with many customers about.

We’ve identified two major concerns in the effort to satisfy this desire. The first one is the obvious one: security and HIPAA compliance. A number of vendors today offer enterprises the ability to protect against data loss, encrypt data and ensure patient privacy.

The second one is less obvious: the actual feasibility of effecting a seamless, effortless flow of information.

When I talk to providers, partners and business associates, they reflect on how systems have grown over the years—whether through acquisitions as they built their integrated network or the fact that the IT budget was starved and a system had to be retained far past its original expected life—and they reflect on how the IT team now has significant challenges.

New connections present a challenge. A lot of new connections require scripting in old and obscure languages that no one really knows anymore. Perhaps one or two people on a team have any experience in it, and that really slows down the ability to flow data into a new nook or cranny.

Another challenge is finding out what happened to data that went astray. Problem resolution takes a really long time. We’re finding industry standards of more than 20 hours to resolve a problem—a delay that’s just short of an eon in business terms!

A third challenge is freeing IT teams from manually reviewing log files. Can you imagine the effort it takes to produce audit trails to identify what really happened when you have to look through multiple log files? These are system-to-system connections, not just one log file. IT has to look through the log file on one system, then look through the log file on another system, then correlate the times, look at all the messages and figure out what was going on. That’s a huge challenge, and doing it well is almost an art form.

You must overcome these challenges and choose a vendor that makes it easy to flow data to every nook and cranny of your health system, to actually have the system find the problem for you, and to retain the audit information you need to prove to the government that the data was not lost and no message went astray. That’s really the biggest point of patient privacy. Most data breaches are due to either the inadvertent or the unplanned release of data to a party that wasn’t supposed to have it. These are things that you can protect against. Let’s make moving data simple and easy again and help David Blumenthal’s vision become reality.

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