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Contributing Writer · Oct 5, 2009

Secondary Health Data a Gold Mine

With health care organizations collecting hundreds of billions of gigabytes of data per year and the Feds poised to assure widespread dissemination of EHRs at long last, PricewaterhouseCoopers has released a survey of industry executives in which 75% predict their organizations’ data will be their most valuable asset in 5 years.

Secondary use of all that data will, according to the respondents, improve the quality of care and public health, reduce costs and get drugs to market faster and more safely.

In its study, the New York consultancy tallied replies from execs representing 482 providers, 136 insurers and 114 drug/life sciences companies.

Nearly two-thirds of surveyed providers said they already use secondary data to some degree. The numbers were 54% and 66% for payers of pharmaceutical companies, respectively. Respondents noted that in addition to EHRs, secondary data came from claims data, lab and x-ray reports, clinical trials and disease management companies.

Still, respondents worried that a lack of data standards and privacy concerns might impede progress in the gold mine. In fact, 90% of the survey respondents said the health care industry needs improved guidelines governing the use and sharing of health information.

Respondents also named these barriers to the use of secondary data:

  • insufficient level of detail and integration (61%),
  • timeliness of data (61%),
  • completeness of data (54%),
  • data not easily aggregated (53%),
  • lack of data standards and coding (52%),
  • accuracy of data (48%),
  • insufficient tools to analyze the data (47%), and
  • privacy and security (19%).

“The implementation of electronic health records is an enormous investment for healthcare providers and for the industry, but the bigger challenge will be in trying to make use of the wealth of information within the U.S. health system that has been trapped in paper silos, just waiting to be unlocked and leveraged,” said Daniel Garrett, a PWC partner that leads its health technology practice.

“Healthcare organizations need to work together to overcome barriers and foster collaboration and innovation,” added Garrett.

Other notable findings from the PWC study are that:

Ninety percent of survey respondents believe that the secondary use of health information will improve the quality of care.

  • Most organizations that already use secondary data do so for internal quality assurance purposes and to identify opportunities to improve care.

  • Among these organizations, 59% have documented improvements in quality, 36% have documented increased patient/member satisfaction, 42% have cut costs and 29% have increased revenues.

  • Providers that are not using secondary data say the main reason is incomplete or non-existent EHR implementation. These providers do not oppose the concept of EHRs per se.

  • Health plans lag behind other health care organizations in their secondary use of health information despite their vast stores of claims information.

  • Ninety percent of drug companies have limited or no access to health information contained in EHRs.

Glenn Laffel MD, PhD
Senior VP, Clinical Affairs, Practice Fusion