Michelle Nicholas, from Canon Europe talks about the importance of data sharing for the future of healthcare reform.
The time it takes to piece together a patient’s medical history can profoundly affect the treatment, and the quality of the treatment, patients receive. The benefits of web-based data sharing are largely agreed on: making relevant healthcare information available whenever and wherever it is needed reduces medical errors, prevents doctors from repeating diagnostic procedures that have already been undertaken and provides life-saving documentation when a patient is unable to communicate.
As well as improving patient care, it also has the potential to improve efficiency and reduce healthcare costs. A 2009 eHealth Initiative Survey of health information exchanges in the USA found that the data-sharing system significantly reduced administration time spent handling lab results, radiology reports and clerical tasks.
We’ve seen considerable progress in Europe in the past 10 years through the European Union’s eHealth Initiative and the European Patients—Smart Open Services (EPSOS) pilot scheme. European countries committed to improve cross-enterprise document sharing (XDS) in 2004 by signing up to the eHealth Action Plan endorsed by the European Council. The action plan showed that national governments were motivated to develop nationwide health data-sharing initiatives over small-scale projects, and ultimately to share data across borders in Europe. To date, there are 22 member states currently involved in EPSOS, a large-scale project to design, build and evaluate a data-sharing infrastructure.
Looking beyond Europe, Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) is an international initiative to improve the way that healthcare computer systems share information. IHE recently defined an architectural infrastructure for data sharing—the XDS integration profile—which lets multiple health IT systems share patient information in the form of documents, images and reports.
Several XDS-based projects are currently underway in Canada and Europe. Canon recently acquired Netherlands-based medical solutions specialist Delft Diagnostic Imaging, which specialises in XDS for sharing digital images and medical records, to advance solutions in this area.
Beyond advantages to clinicians, systems that support cooperation between a greater number of locations mean patients could have greater choice over where they are treated; the central system remains up to date regardless of where each stage in the clinical process occurs. And freedom of choice may soon extend not only to hospitals within a patient’s local area or country, but also across Europe, removing obstacles that patients face if they wish to travel for treatment in other EU countries.
Data-sharing and shared-workflow systems also afford the patient more control, making it easier, for example, to get a second opinion from a separate provider if they are unhappy about a proposed treatment.
The revolution of healthcare is already underway, and has a promising path ahead. Having instant access to medical records through data sharing will undoubtedly change the face of healthcare for the better, provided citizens retain their rights to opt out and define how much information they personally share.
Michelle Nicholas is European Customer Marketing Manager, Canon Europe