The Importance of Medical Data Portability and Its Role in the Future of Healthcare

The Importance of Medical Data Portability and Its Role in the Future of Healthcare

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The COVID-19 pandemic showed us the importance of making medical data portable and easily verifiable, with the world grappling with the challenge of ensuring reliable verification of high COVID-19 test results at scale, in order to safeguard public health and enable safe travel.

In this article, we will look at how data portability will play an increasingly bigger role in the future of healthcare, based on insights into the current healthcare landscape discussed in recent industry panels Accredify were invited to speak at.

With telehealth growing in popularity by an astounding 81% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we seek and receive medical care has changed drastically in a short span of time. And with more players in the field of healthcare, keeping track of patients’ medical history and previous prescriptions can be equally difficult for both healthcare professionals and the patients themselves.

This is where portable data comes into the picture. Medical data that can be owned and shared freely by patients solves a multitude of administrative challenges, which saves precious resources that could be directed to assisting other patients in need.

Data portability and its role in healthcare

First things first: what is portable data? Put simply, portable data refers to information that can be shared freely by the data owner, and read by anyone who has been granted access. File formats that are data portable are files that are compatible with any system, such as PDFs.

One of the key problems with data sharing in the healthcare industry is that different healthcare providers are using different clinic management systems, which makes it difficult to share important patient data across healthcare providers. This can lead to data becoming “stuck” in siloed systems, with patient information becoming difficult to access or update.

When patients need to seek medical care with other providers due to circumstances (e.g. while travelling overseas), such siloed patient data can potentially lead to out-of-date information being used for decision-making, or embarking on treatment without the knowledge of the patient’s medical history since the patient is unable to access their records. This can result in negative consequences for the patient and their treatment outcomes.

At MedTech Forum’s panel on “Barriers Preventing Patient Futures’ Progress”, Accredify’s CCO Simon highlighted the value of using the patients as the interface between disparate healthcare systems, as it is a near impossible task to connect all the diagnostic machines with governments and businesses.

“The practical challenge of integrating all IT systems is not feasible. At Accredify, we have a different approach. Our focus is using the patient as the interface, or API, between these different systems.

If you think about a care journey, what is the commonality? It’s the patient. So why not have the patient receive tamper-proof records issued by a healthcare professional? The patient can store those and share the records with whomever they may want to share them with, and collect their records as they go.”

Simon, CCO at Accredify

An example of how patients can be empowered to become the interface between these systems through portable data is the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). EHRs can be accessed and used by patients and healthcare providers alike and is a digital version of a patient’s medical history, with information on medications, allergies, test results, and more. One of the many benefits of EHRs is that they can be shared between providers, thus making it easier for different doctors to get the information they need to provide proper care to a specific patient.

While there already are some government initiatives in place that aim to improve data sharing in the healthcare industry, such as Singapore’s HealthHub and Australia’s My Health Record, many of the widely accessible platforms on the market only provide records from either the public sector or selected private operators.

Although there are some solutions on the market, more has to be done to enable easy data sharing and improved data portability, through solutions that are accessible to all patients and healthcare providers. With more hybrid approaches of medical assistance arising with e.g. telehealth, this is the time to act to fully streamline data sharing in the healthcare industry and ensure full insights into patients’ medical history.

Portable data as a tool for better patient care

Portable medical data can benefit all stakeholders by providing data access and insights to both patients and healthcare providers. For example, portable medical data through e.g. EHRs can be invaluable when people are travelling and do not have access to their family doctor or local hospital.

With remote access to their own health records, people can access their medical information no matter where they are. This can be especially helpful if they need medical assistance for themselves or a family member e.g. after an accident on a vacation overseas.

For healthcare professionals treating patients who are from out of town or who have used other private providers, it can be difficult to track down their medical history. Portable medical data can make this process much easier by providing all the necessary information in one place to provide safe and helpful treatments to each patient, based on their specific needs.

Some of the key benefits of portable medical data include:

1. Preventing medical errors caused by a lack of insight into patients’ medical history, such as previous prescriptions and allergies, when patients seek help from new healthcare providers

2. Preventing misdiagnoses caused by a lack of insights into medical records and symptom history when patients seek medical help from new healthcare providers

3. Optimising treatments and prescriptions for patients through insights into medical history and symptoms when seeking medical help from new healthcare providers

4. Optimising the use of healthcare providers’ resources, with all patient data accessible in one place, limiting excessive testing and repetitive administrative work

5. Reducing transfer periods for patients who are seeking medical help from new healthcare providers

6. Preventing patients from becoming addicted to prescribed medications through a collective EHR with insights to previous prescriptions from all healthcare providers, limiting unnecessary repetitive prescriptions

Faster processing times with easily sharable, portable data

Portable medical data is not only beneficial to patients and healthcare professionals, but also to companies that handle medical data in their administrative processes and need to collect and verify information from different stakeholders.

As an example, health insurance companies can benefit from data portability to streamline insurance claim processes. This can save companies great amounts of time and costs related to the process of collecting and verifying patient data.

“It still takes quite some time in terms of getting the data from different doctors and hospitals. When [patients] want to submit claims, it can be quite challenging and sometimes take a few weeks.”

Benjamin Ang (Head of Financial Literacy and Adviser Advocacy, GoalsMapper) at Medical Fair Asia’s “Future of Knowledge Sharing: Views from Different Healthcare Stakeholders” panel

Portable medical data used with patient consent for insurance claim processes can:
  1. Cut time spent and costs incurred in collecting medical data from various stakeholders
  2. Limit the need for inter-company communications to gather relevant medical data
  3. Keep all relevant data in one place, optimising administrative processes

While applying portable data to these processes can improve the experience and resource management for all stakeholders involved, it is important to stress that the control of how, and for how long, patient data is accessible to third parties must be up to the patients to choose. Another risk is companies misusing data to monetise patients’ medical data to target consumers for tailored products and services.

To limit any misuse of data, Accredify Passport, our Digital Identity Wallet which also serves as a Digital Health Passport for users, puts the control of medical data into patients’ hands, where they can easily share only the necessary information to complete e.g. insurance claim processes only for the time that it is needed.

Avoiding the pitfalls of complete data access

While medical data portability offers benefits for each stakeholder, Dr. Anthony Foo Tun Lin (Medical Director, CareHealth) stressed that accessible medical records are not a guarantee for good healthcare, but rather a great asset to provide the best patient care possible (From Medical Fair Asia’s “Future of Knowledge Sharing: Views from Different Healthcare Stakeholders” panel).

He also added that “good healthcare comes from the doctor making a connection with the patient and asking questions during the consultation that leads to a formulation or treatment plan that is appropriate for the patient.”

Short appointments with each patient and busy workdays can sometimes result in human errors that can affect the accuracy of content in patients’ medical records. Healthcare professionals must be particularly aware of this when accessing patients’ EHRs with data from other providers.

These are some of the pitfalls healthcare providers should be aware of to not blindly trust information from other providers in a patient’s EHR:

  1. Copy and paste errors from external sources
  2. Spelling and data errors
  3. Subjective opinions on treatment plans
  4. Missing details that should be considered for diagnoses, treatments, or dosages

The stakeholders involved in medical data sharing

While data portability plays an important part in making crucial health information more accessible to patients and healthcare professionals, patient data must always be handled delicately and securely due to its sensitive nature.

With little room for error, governments and companies must not rush into solutions for medical data portability, but carefully consider the concerns across various stakeholders within the healthcare industry. This way, they can find the most effective way to execute, implement, and regulate portable medical data, and ensure that data is being handled according to regulations and to prevent information from being misused.

These are the three key stakeholders to consider for players handling patient data:

1. The patients:

As data owners, patients are the most important stakeholders in medical data sharing. For companies looking to use patients’ medical data for their products or services, they must provide a big enough benefit to give patients an incentive to share their data. Such incentives can be providing patients with further insights into their physical and/or medical health, patient savings on resources like time and money, improving patients’ access to their own medical records, and more targeted treatment options.

2. The government:

As the regulator, the government has laws and regulations in place to protect the different parties involved. In Singapore, companies have to comply with the Healthcare Services Act (HCSA), which will be implemented in full in 2023. The HCSA aims to improve the protection of patients’ safety and wellbeing, with new regulations and licensing approaches. This is set to play a big role for companies that handle sensitive medical information.

Dr Lee Phin Peng (Deputy Program Director, Singapore Biodesign) emphasised the need for regulations that protect patients from misuse of their data during Medical Fair Asia’s “Future of Knowledge Sharing: Views from Different Healthcare Stakeholders” panel:

“The balance between regulation and access needs to be well thought out. That lies inherently in some of the government policies or regulatory authorities, and I think those will then open up the pathways for innovations and for start-ups to come in and leverage some of these policies to move forward.”

3. Other companies and healthcare providers:

As the collectors and sharers of medical data, companies and healthcare providers are responsible for the handling and protection of patients’ data. Security and confidentiality are important here. At the same Medical Fair Asia panel, Dr. Anthony Foo Tun Lin (Medical Director, CareHealth) stressed the importance of secure data sharing agreements between companies, with a framework for secure data transmission, protocols, and clearances at the backend of every platform.

The next steps to streamline data sharing and further improve patient care

Looking to the future, it is evident that data portability will play an even more important role in healthcare. With the continued advancement of EHRs, telehealth services and digital health passports, it will become easier than ever for patients to have access to their own medical data and share their information with e.g. healthcare professionals. This will allow patients to take a more active role in their own care and enable them and their healthcare providers alike to better understand their overall health.

These are the key solutions thought leaders see for the future of medical data sharing:

1. Health Passports for patients to gain access to their medical records anywhere, anytime and easily share their data with healthcare professionals:

As we move more and more into the digital age, our need for secure identification grows. This is where digital passports and identity wallets come in, such as Accredify Passport.

Both digital passports and identity wallets provide a convenient way for individuals to safely prove their identities and information, such as health records, online or offline without having to carry around physical documents. 

These solutions make important data points more accessible, with true-to-source information that is easy to share and verify, leaving the control in the hands of the patients.

2. Decentralised data platforms to simplify data sharing between healthcare providers:

All panellists from the two panels discussed in this article agreed that the industry must come together to make it easier to share information and avoid data getting stuck in siloed systems. One solution for this is decentralised, tamper-proof data stored on the blockchain, to enable easy sharing, access and verification of patient data.

To make such platforms and solutions accessible to all, a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including patients, doctors, hospitals, and other parties handling patient data. Only by working together can we create a system that is efficient and easy to use.

3. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to bring needed solutions to life:

To bring the solutions needed to improve healthcare to life, industry-led PPPs are necessary to find specific pain points in the medical field where the government can step in and assist with resources and frameworks to enable solutions in the industry.

By connecting the public sector with private, smaller players, we can create accessible and specified solutions that can have a significant impact on our daily lives.

Stay tuned for our next article to learn more about PPPs and the role they play in digital trust and data sharing.

Healthcare providers are increasingly recognizing the importance of data sharing in order to provide better care for their patients. However, there are currently several challenges that stand in the way of effective data sharing, including isolated systems, lack of standardisation, accessibility and resources.

In order for the necessary shift towards full data portability to happen, governments must provide the necessary infrastructure and support. This includes developing standards for data exchange, building trust among stakeholders, providing resources for data management, educating the public and partaking in PPP projects with smaller players to help with specific problem areas.

Reach out a member of our team to learn more about medical data sharing and how we can work together to create solutions that make data more accessible, shareable and easily verifiable without compromising on safety.