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Will the Covid-19 Pandemic Accelerate Patient Access to Data?


As the desire to know more about individual medical records grows, easy accessibility for patients will be vital.

Patients have never been more vested in their own health journey. With new coronavirus infections soaring again across much of the country, it makes sense that we are now hyper-vigilant about the state of our own health.

One need not look far for evidence of this shift in behavior. From new consumer-initiated services that bypass the traditional route of getting referred by one’s primary caregiver for additional testing to receiving results on-demand in a patient portal, patients are hopping into the driver’s seat. In a post-pandemic world are we going to see patients expecting more access to their health data on-demand? 

A healthcare system under transition has meant that more than ever the patient is at the center at every stage of their journey -- from physician, to radiology, to follow-up. But, for radiologists, this shift can pose a significant challenge, because their role has traditionally meant contact mostly with other doctors, with limited patient engagement.

However, radiologists are increasingly changing how they work in order to engage with patients more. With the growth of patient and physician portals, and increasingly activated patients, there are more opportunities for contact than ever.

Changing Regulatory Landscape

Patient-centered healthcare initiatives have been underway to empower patients to take more responsibility for their healthcare for years, but the reality has rarely met the enthusiasm. In 2015, a study in Perspectives in Health Information Management found that approximately half of healthcare providers surveyed who offered patient portals reported that less than 5 percent of their patients actually used it. As of 2018, little had changed: Office of the National Coordinator found that only 52 percent of patients were offered online access to their records of which 28 percent had actually viewed them. This level of usage is truly abysmal considering how important online and mobile services are to all aspects of our daily lives.

New regulations are nudging institutions to adopt more tech-friendly practices to engage patients directly and share vital health information, but adoption has been slower than in other industries. This could be due to the fact that the healthcare industry has been slower to build healthcare technology at a consumer-grade or the reality that so many silos exist that it’s more burdensome for the patient to take charge than just let the system work as it always has. Interoperability and standardized data criteria for API developers are the key factors for ensuring effective technological innovation.

A Renewed Sense of Urgency

The pandemic has ushered in a new sense of urgency for patient-centered care. In the first half of 2020 alone, U.S. digital health companies raised a record-setting $5.4 billion in venture funding according to investment firm Rock Health. This demonstrates there’s never been a greater need—or demand—for technology-enabled healthcare.

Many of the previous barriers to tech adoption rapidly dissolved out of necessity as doctors turned to video conferencing for consultations, labs launched more direct-to-consumer offerings, and patients equipped themselves with medical monitoring devices like pulse oximeters in their homes. It will be paramount that the healthcare industry and technologists alike prioritize consumer demand when considering innovation. With all the complexity in the healthcare system and a patient’s own needs, providing more information without context and within siloed applications may be counterproductive.

Patient Portal 2.0

The next challenge will be ensuring that with all of this information going directly to the patient, they will continue to have sufficient access to a trusted medical partner to provide actionable advice. In the past, radiologists have broadly been “the doctor's doctor”. But, increasingly activated patients, who are looking to participate more in their care, are looking for access to their complete medical records— from test results to imaging results. While most patients want to receive results directly from their referring physicians, many also want to see their radiology reports and images, too.

Ultimately, patients are looking to receive results from more channels and get more data points. Comprehensive electronic health records, easily accessible by the patient, will be essential. 

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