Report: Digital health innovation stymied by poor data sharing

Patients and providers alike are interested in, and see major benefits from, increased access to digital health records, according to a new report from Royal Philips.
By Dave Muoio
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A new report from Royal Philips exploring the progress and shortcomings of digital health pinpointed infrequent patient data sharing as a frequent barrier to high-quality care and healthcare innovation. This trend was consistent across several global regions, despite increasing interest and advocacy for such approaches among patients and providers alike.

“Two-way sharing of information is not only essential to deliver the right care at the right time, it also helps to improve the patient and clinician experience,” Jan Kimpen, chief medical officer for Philips, said in a statement. “Informed and empowered patients also take better care of their health, which contributes to the last element of the Quadruple Aim — lower cost of care. Today’s Future Health Index [FHI] report highlights that health and healthcare is all about people. For example, the patient-clinician relationship is highly symbiotic. In terms of each party’s well-being, what one side does affects the other and vice versa.”

Providers, patients want easy access to health records

From March to May, independent global market research firms commissioned by Philips surveyed 15,114 individuals, 3,194 of whom were healthcare professionals, from 15 different countries.

Among their responses, the report highlighted an encouraging increase in the adoption of various digital health technologies among providers, with 76% reporting the use of digital health records of some kind within their facility, 61% reporting telehealth use and 46% reporting the use of artificial intelligence.

Digging deeper into digital record use, 80% reported sharing records to other professionals in their facility, whereas only 32% said they shared with others outside of their center. This shortcoming comes in spite of the respondents' general appreciation of the technology: 69% said that the records improved quality of care, 64% said they had a positive impact on professionals’ satisfaction and 59% said they improve patient outcomes.

“While many conventional [digital health records] are often criticized by doctors because of their intrinsic shortcomings,” Kimpen said, “it is encouraging to see that the FHI study shows that the majority of the doctors interviewed still find them useful, so that patient information is readily available to them and ready to share within their hospital.

Similar sentiments came from consumers as well. Patients with access to a form of digital health records (n = 4,083) more often rated their care experience as good, very good or excellent (82% versus 66%), more often rated their quality of care positively (74% versus 66%), and more often spoke favorably about the quality of care available in their country (80% versus 64%). Among those who did not have or were unaware of their access to such records (n = 11,031), 63% said that they would want access, and 64% would want their healthcare provider to see their records.

“Patients are explicitly asking for access to their digital health records,” said Jan Kimpen. “The benefits are clear,” Kimpen said. “Now is the time for the healthcare industry at large to step up its efforts to really bring patients into the cloud. Other industries have shown that the technology is there to do it in a safe way.”

Preparing for 'continuous transformation'

To do just that, the report’s authors advised healthcare stakeholders to learn from “emerging” international markets such as China, Saudi Arabia, India, Russia and others which swiftly implemented novel digital health technologies shortly upon receiving access to them. Doing so has allowed interest and awareness of digital tools to permeate their provider workforce and patient populations. In particular, survey respondents from these countries more often reported a willingness to employ the tools if given a chance, and to say that technology has positively impacted their experience, than those living in “developed” countries that have been more gradual in their adoption.

“Although specific challenges and circumstances differ from country to country, the experiences of digital health technology forerunners provide lessons that all countries can learn from and apply to their own healthcare systems,” the report’s authors wrote.

These results also emphasize the need for healthcare systems falling behind the curve to address health data access and sharing if they are to improve the quality of care and, more broadly, prepare themselves for 'continuous transformation,' the authors wrote.

For providers, removing barriers stands to improve workflows within hospitals, enhance the work lives of professionals and help clinicians who are already on board to “become true advocates of these methods to both their patients and their peers.”

On the patient side, the major challenge for systems looking to empower their patients is encouraging more and more consumers to collect and share their healthcare data with their providers, thereby “giving healthcare professionals access to more up-to-date and complete information that will allow for more coordinated patient care.”