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Summary:

The economic stimulus incentive for healthcare providers who adopt electronic health records (EHR) is helping fuel innovation in cloud solutions in this area. Vendors are rushing to bring EHR solutions to market. But what benefits can a cloud-based EHR bring as distinct from other delivery methods?

The Obama administration has plans to release $44 billion in stimulus money aimed at getting doctors to adopt electronic health records (EHR), and the programs are helping fuel innovation in the cloud. I recently posted a story contending that cloud applications can create a statistical goldmine. This goldmine exists not only in commercial settings, but also in areas that could directly benefit all citizens, such as in electronic health records.

Not surprisingly given the size of this potential market, vendors are rushing to bring EHR solutions to market. Last month, we covered one offering from Verizon, and Google has a similar pilot project it began in 2008. And last week, IBM got into the game with a product introduced jointly with Aetna.

As cloud EHR vendors have been quick to point out, digitizing patient records alone doesn’t return significant value. Simply changing the format of patient information doesn’t fundamentally change the way doctors do business. As with an on-premise EHR, a cloud-based EHR can bring value in terms of cost-cutting. But a connected cloud-based system can go much farther and bring about a reduction of medical errors and a benefit in patient outcomes. Late last month, one cloud EHR vendor, San Francisco-based Practice Fusion, released the results of a study that aggregated data across their four million patient records that provide some insights into healthcare in the U.S. In particular, the Prescription Index study focused on tracking the 20 most commonly prescribed medications by family practitioners, pediatricians and psychiatrists.

The report is an interesting insight into prescription volumes for different specialties, and looks at the highest volumes of drugs prescribed and the top-scoring medication types.

This isn’t just of interest to those involved in the pharmaceutical industry; scientists from Harvard Medical School are interested because a sample size this large offers a unique opportunity to create “nationally representative data sets” that can serve as the source data for further independent research. Some of the insights that previous cloud EHR data aggregation has drawn include:

  • The link between socioeconomic status, diabetes and body mass index. To determine whether patient data from the EHR could reproduce existing knowledge about the links between socioeconomic status, BMI and the incidence of diabetes, data was extracted for all adult patients. A medical journal is going to publish the findings of this analysis.
  • The patients to target in the case of a potential pandemic. Last fall, the EHR was queried to identify 300,000 patients at high risk for H1N1. That data went straight to the doctors to help them order vaccines from the Center for Disease Control. The video below details to clinicians how this process, from data collection, to analysis and through to actions for the physician, actually works in the field.

The biggest barrier to the adoption of EHR is people’s reluctance to feel secure with their most sensitive data residing somewhere unknown to them. It’s the benefits obtained from analysis (such as that presented above) that will help people to realize the value aggregated patient data can bring. This, in turn, will help cloud EHR become the norm.

Ben Kepes is an independent consultant and contributing writer for GigaOM. Please see his disclosure statement in his bio.

  1. The value is in the data. In the physician’s office, in the patient’s file,and in the aggregate. But it can’t be aggregated easily or inexpensively if it is resident in stand-along systems with the subtle differences created by more than 200 vendors. Stand-alone systems are a form of a distributed Tower of Babel.

    Cloud computing offers opportunities to develop large databases and to justify the cost of developing cross-walks between such databases to get even more data. And, to provide links to sources outside the “healthcare system.” Links to social networks like patients-like-me. Links to devices in places other than medical facilities such as the links envisioned by the recently announced joint venture between Intel and GE.

    Internet applications often start small and then grow way beyond what is foreseeable at the beginning, e.g., web search that has now grown into Google, and others.

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  2. [...] are being reformed with IT investment, in particular electronic health records, a topic I’ve written about over at GigaOm New regulations that require US health care providers to use electronic health [...]

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  3. [...] on the statistical benefits of hosting applications in the cloud and one, in particular, that  highlights some really exciting findings from cloud-based EMR vendors. By looking at aggregate data across four million patient records they were able to identify trends [...]

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  4. I too agree that the biggest barrier we face in the emergence of electronic health records(EHR) is the fear people have of their information being somewhere out there for all to see. A web-based EHR needs to take the proper precautions to remain HIPPA complaint. Protected health information must be de-identified and anonymous. With these measures, data can be used to improve care, estimate the costs of care and support public health initiatives.

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