Improved patient outcomes are tied to sharing diagnostic EHR data within health systems.
A recent study ties hospital and health system sharing of diagnostic EHR data to lower patient mortality rates and improve health outcomes.
Researchers studying CMS and AHA data published their findings in the American Journal of Managed Care. Specifically, Deyo et al. scrutinized information about patient mortality and readmission rates for heart failure and pneumonia in 2012 and 2013.
The AHA Annual Information Technology supplement gathered information from providers about their hospital’s health data sharing behaviors. Providers submitted responses about how frequently their hospital exchanged data between providers in their own health system, as well as with providers at outside health systems. AHA collected separate responses from providers about hospital sharing of radiology reports and lab results.
Researchers linked AHA survey data from 3,113 distinct hospitals to each hospital’s corresponding CMS Hospital Compare scores.
Ultimately, study results showed diagnostic EHR data sharing within health systems was associated with better health outcomes.
“Hospitals sharing diagnostic data through their EHRs with other hospitals and physicians within their system were associated with significant reductions in 30-day patient mortality scores,” stated researchers in the report.
Comparatively, sharing diagnostic EHR data with hospitals part of other health systems was associated with higher patient mortality scores – particularly for patients with heart failure.
Several factors may contribute to the correlation between EHR data sharing between health systems and higher patient mortality scores, researchers wrote.
“It is possible that hospitals within a system share EHR data more effectively due to team dynamics,” they suggested. “Further, as hospitals in different systems may have different EHR systems, there may be unique difficulties with sharing data across systems.”
Furthermore, the exchange of radiology reports may be limited by the fact that many patient health records do not contain radiology images.
“This may partially account for the differential between sharing with providers within and outside of systems because physicians within the system may be able to access the source images through other means when necessary,” wrote researchers. “Hospitals that solve the communication challenges associated with EHR data may be able to significantly reduce patient readmissions and mortality.”
Researchers also found communication between providers across EHR systems was generally lower than communication between providers using the same system. Seventy-two percent of hospitals shared radiology reports with hospitals within their system while only 36 percent shared radiology reports with hospitals outside their system.
Researchers observed a similar gap in the exchange of lab results within health systems as compared to between health systems.
Without significant improvements in EHR interoperability, the effectiveness of data sharing between hospitals will continue to lag behind data sharing within hospitals.
“If hospital sharing is limited by communication or compatibility among different EHR systems, the ability of EHRs to improve patient outcomes or access to care may be limited in the long run,” wrote researchers.
A lack of effective health data exchange between health systems may pose a significant threat to patient safety.
“Our study found some evidence that when hospitals do share EHR data with hospitals outside their system, patient mortality has the potential to increase,” researchers explained. “Therefore, although there may be benefits to sharing EHR data, it may be that hospitals are not yet able to effectively use EHR data from other hospitals as well as would be desired.”
Given the low rate of diagnostic EHR data sharing between health systems, researchers suggested policymakers develop improved common standards for health data exchange between EHR systems.
“Thus, best approach for increasing patient outcomes through better provider communication of diagnostic information may not be simply expanding the degree of EHR data sharing among providers, but rather developing common standards when using different EHR systems to ensure that providers can share diagnostic information in ways that are easy for other providers to access and accurately interpret,” they concluded.