For quite some time, critics have rightly complained about the difficulty providers have faced exchanging data stored in Epic EHRs. That’s been the case despite Epic offering a proprietary data-sharing tool named Care Everywhere which makes some degree of patient data sharing possible.
The Epic tool hasn’t been giving providers access to entire medical records, but rather a subset including such basic data as medication lists, problem histories and allergies. While sharing such things is good, it’s devoutly wished that providers eventually develop the capability to share much richer sources of health information.
Regardless, all of this seems to matter very little in the face of a giant threat like the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest news on the Care Everywhere front is that the pandemic has caused providers to use the heck out of it.
According to a new press release from Epic, health data conducted using Care Everywhere reached 221 million in a single month. This represents an increase of almost 40% from the same time period one year ago, the EHR giant reported. While the number of exchanges hit a low point of April 2020, the volume has been rising rapidly from that point forward. This release included the somewhat surprising (to me, at least) is that half the records exchanged for this service or sent between health systems that use Epic and those using a different interoperable EHR.
Regardless, the fact remains that Care Everywhere remains a Band-Aid on a gushing interoperability wound. The fact that so many providers were prepared to make use of the relatively scant information available shows how much they want to see interoperability work. (I vividly remember my PCP muttering “it’s just not enough” as he downloaded information obtained using the Epic tool.)
What this says to me is that there’s still an opportunity to win the hearts and minds of doctors if a vendor comes up with even a slightly more robust data sharing mechanism. So far that seems to be out of reach. Yes, I know some of you will probably be able to share the names of specific companies that you see as solving the problem, but honestly, if they were really, truly able to do so they’d soon be richer than Jeff Bezos (Ok, maybe not him, but it’s directionally accurate) and might even become a household name.
In the meantime, the struggle to share patient health data effectively grinds on. As a recent survey by Healthcare IT Today demonstrated, a significant number of providers continue to struggle with the same interoperability challenges they faced five or even 10 years ago. For example, health IT leaders complained about continued obstacles imposed by vendor limitations. “Outside vendors aren’t able to share data and resources, and there is no consistent reporting of the same information between organizations,” one respondent wrote.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that while it’s encouraging to see higher levels of health data sharing, even if they’re a result of the pandemic, there is little evidence that this particular shift in provider behavior will last beyond the end of the immediate COVID threat. Care Everywhere does as little as possible to make full-bodied health data information available, and that’s not likely to change.