Health care system financing, delivery, and workflows widely vary across nations around the world. Philips surveyed health care professionals and consumers living in 15 countries, from North America to Asia, and found that these health systems share one over-arching objective: to provide quality care with improved experiences for both patients and healthcare professionals. Being Philips, what underpins that quality and experience is technology; Philips explored telehealth, AI, digital health records (DHRs), and other digital health tools that can engage patients.

Philips published results from this global study in The Future Health Index 2019, themed “Transforming healthcare experiences, exploring the impact of digital health technology on healthcare professionals and patients.”

From the consumer-patient’s point of view:

  • Among people who don’t currently have access to a DHR or don’t know if they do, 63% want access; only 21% do not.
  • Among consumers who do have access to their electronic health records, 82% rate their health care experience as excellent, very good or good.
  • Among consumers who have access to DHRs, 80% perceive the quality of care in their country as excellent, very good, or good.
  • Fewer consumers without access to DHRs rated their health care experience and quality as excellent, very good or good.
  • 42% of consumers who track their health via digital tech do so because it’s convenient, 35% do so to learn more about themselves, and 34% say they feel more in control of their health.
  • Using digital tech has improved consumers’ experiences with health care providers across a range of tasks: 53% told Philips it’s easier to schedule appointments, 47% think it’s easier to get test results, 42% receive appointment reminders, and 27% are able to monitor health indicators on their own.

One very important finding in this study is that access to one’s health data demonstrates consumers are more collaborative with their clinicians — and are more open to sharing their data. 84% of consumers with access to personal electronic health data want their health care professionals to have access, as well.

Furthermore, more patients who share their data perceive the quality of their health care to be higher than consumers who have not shared their data with their clinicians.

Patients view their health care professionals as “sherpas” to digital health data. Older people, in particular, would be more likely to use digital health tools if their clinicians recommend these technologies.

Thus, Philips asserts that health care professionals are becoming “true digital collaborators,” seeing positive impacts on the way they and their patients experience health care. There still remain barriers to digital health tech adoption on both sides of this relationship, for doctors, nurses and other care providers, as well as for patients, consumers and caregivers.

The second chart details the key barriers preventing clinicians from sharing data with patients. Among the top obstacles are lack of access to data-sharing systems coupled with lack of interoperability between health IT investments, preference for paper and phone, and data privacy and security concerns.

These barriers prevent data sharing both within a clinician’s health care facility of practice, and with clinicians operating outside of their facility.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  So much for smooth operating “health data ecosystems,” and the liquidity of data from clinicians’ systems share-able with other clinicians (say for second opinions, a telehealth consultation, or other reasons) and with patients.

Privacy and data security remain a major issue, which is a particularly challenging problem when it comes to consumer-facing health and wellness apps as discussed in this New York Times article, “When Apps Get Your Medical Data, Your Privacy May Go With It.” The article points out that, “…Groups including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned regulators that people who authorized consumer apps to retrieve their medical records could open themselves up to serious data abuses. Federal privacy protections, which limit how health providers and insurers may use and share medical records, no longer apply once patients transfer their data to consumer apps.”

Still, as David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund and previously President Obama’s National Coordinator for Health IT, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the 21st Century Cures Act could usher in, “The seeds of a consumer-driven health care revolution, one that could turn the U.S. health care system on its head,” in the form of expanding adoption of open application program interfaces — APIs — that enable different IT systems to communicate — that is, to realize interoperability.

“Open APIs will make it easy for consumers — acting through authorized third parties — to gain direct access to their EHRs and their personal clinical data. Think of APIs as tunnels into the clinical data warehouses that have been created by EHRs. Think of third parties as new and existing IT powerhouses — including the likes of Apple, Amazon, and Google — that have been authorized by patients to act as data stewards on their behalf,” Blumenthal explained. This is a very important pillar for health consumer engagement and patient experience.

As my friends Deven McGraw, Chief Regulatory Officer at Ciitizen (whom I profiled here in Health Populi), and Vince Kuraitis, longtime health strategy guru and author of the blog, characterized this challenge, “The Goldilocks Dilemma” in The Health Care Blog. The Dilemma is the risk of “too little” or “too much” health data being shared. Deven and Vince note that Federal health policy has focused on two “seemingly conflicting goals:”

  1. Broader data interoperability and data sharing, and
  2. Enhanced data privacy and data protection.

This is an organically morphing discussion, on The Health Care Blog and in Congress, where there is something like bipartisan support for interoperability and a taste for consumer privacy legislation in the post-Facebook/Cambridge Analytica and the current Big Tech/social media moment. Until consumer-patients are granted a New School, contemporary data privacy paradigm that moves people toward health citizenship, patients must be prepared to advocate for themselves and their loved ones when it comes to data privacy and security — and closely collaborate with clinicians to gain access to their health data.