The ability to share patient data across disparate networks is the key to raising the standards on patient care delivery.

To understand the concept of integrated patient care, picture a utopian healthcare system that co-locates all of a patient’s healthcare providers in one building. The primary care physician (PCP) examines the patient and sends her down the hall to have blood drawn and tested. The patient is informed of the results and then sent to a specialist further down the hall for evaluation. Soon after, the provider team confers to determine a treatment plan and subsequently creates and schedules appointments based on that plan. Throughout the process, the team collaboratively tracks the patient’s progress on a commonly shared Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. The integrated, interoperable data provided by the system enables the patient’s provider to act quickly and provide consistent care with limited gaps in coverage.

In reality, a typical patient’s care providers are geographically distributed and employed by different organizations that use separate EHR systems. Therefore, a fully integrated and comprehensive health record does not exist for a typical patient, since many providers lack simple means to electronically share data. The lack of efficient data sharing leads to a number of suboptimal effects such as delays in diagnosis, gaps in care, increases in co-morbidity rates, increased costs to providers, and other problems that work against the patient’s best interests. With no means to share complete patient data, providers simply lack the capability to build an optimal healthcare plan for the patient.

Practitioners cannot be expected to create the best patient care plans when they lack comprehensive access to their patients’ healthcare information from across the spectrum of care. To remedy this problem, integrated healthcare systems provide clinicians with the ability to collaboratively build and evolve longitudinal records, which are essentially a timeline of patient data for observations, labs, and vitals. Ultimately, the goal of interoperability is to produce a longitudinal record for every patient and make that data accessible to clinicians at the time of care. Furthermore, interoperable data yields both individual and population-level benefits, as integrated and interoperable  

Integrated healthcare systems offer a wealth of benefits, both on the patient and provider sides of the healthcare quality equation. Some of the key benefits to patients and providers include: 

Patient Access on Demand: First and foremost among these benefits is the ability for patients to access their complete healthcare information on demand. Many EHRs give the patient control over who can access their data and under what circumstances. Giving patients the right tools to actually engage and participate in their own care process, whether it is through a mobile application or a member portal website, helps them to improve the overall quality of their own healthcare and the healthcare of others for whom they are caring. In some cases, a person may be caring for a dependent child, an elderly parent, or another form of medical proxy. Point-of-Care tools can therefore enable an individual to ensure that they (or those they are caring for) receive the best care possible.

Provider Access and Collaboration: Integrated health records enable providers to update the most recent patient data in real-time and enable virtual collaboration of the patient’s entire-provider team. Although it’s unlikely that a patient’s provider team will be co-located, integrated systems help to simulate this experience by filtering a patient’s data to the same system, thereby building a more comprehensive record that can be viewed by all team members at the point of care. In this way, clinicians are able to view a more complete health record and gain a more holistic understanding of the patient’s health. This also serves to improve capabilities for holistic clinical decision-making and helps to avoid duplicative or unnecessary lab work and testing.

Holistic Treatment Plans: Integrated systems encourage and enable integrated and holistic treatment plans. When virtual collaboration is possible within a patient’s circle of care, it enables better and more holistic information with which to make patient care decisions. This includes information that provides a more in-depth, 360-degree view of the patient, including non-medical social determinants that affect the patient’s health. For example, issues such as unemployment, poverty, divorce, and lack of healthcare access (to name a few examples) can have a significant impact on a patient’s overall health. The holistic treatment approach goes beyond just treating symptoms and instead enables providers to understand the root of the problem, thus creating better and more manageable solutions for the patient. Integrating health records benefits both patients and providers by enabling the provider to have a holistic view of the patient and his or her medical history by providing patients with access to their own medical records and empowering them to actively participate in their own treatment plans.

Doctors often look for simple solutions to try to explain and solve their patients’ problems. Appropriately, an EHR is just that – a relatively simple solution with a multitude of benefits for patients and providers. By pulling together integrated and interoperable data, they offer more accurate, faster, and more complete insights for individuals and populations – truly the future of healthcare. Learn how Ready Computing can help.

About the Author

Michael LaRocca is the CEO of the New York-based health technology firm Ready Computing, which offers innovative services that improve patient care. Mike’ expertise includes a thorough understanding of the standards, protocols, technologies, and architectures required to successfully integrate healthcare data. He is passionate about the holistic patient treatment plans, and is very active in consortiums and working groups focused on healthcare data integration.