Information is being shared in larger quantities across greater distances than ever before. The Radicati Group, Inc., a technology market research firm, estimated that approximately 269 billion emails are sent each day. A 2015 report by Informate Mobile Intelligence found that on average, Americans receive and send 32 texts, answer or initiate six phone calls and spend 14 minutes on chat/VOIP each day. And about 40 percent of the world – more than three billion people – is now on social media, including 81 percent of the U.S. population.
The era of mass communication is changing more than just the way that people interact and share information socially. It is also impacting business operations and industry best practices, where professionals are able to exchange data to advance mutual goals in their field.
One area where that trend is particularly true is in healthcare, where digital methods of communication are being adopted at increasing rates to improve knowledge sharing across organizational boundaries.
Why knowledge management matters
Healthcare providers and organizations are continually working to advance the existing body of knowledge in the medical field. This is most effective when these groups are able to share information with those both within and outside their own group.
The benefits to the medical industry offered by this type of sharing are numerous, and include:
Supporting organizational decision-making: Health care providers face numerous choices every day, from which prescription will be more effective to what day a hospital patient should be discharged following surgery. Sharing information across both department and organizations can give staff a more complete picture of an individual’s medical history as well as of larger trends, reducing the time spent deliberating and increasing confidence in action that is taken.
Advancing research: By sharing information, researchers can access larger pools of data than they would be looking at their organization alone. Instead of being limited to the patients that they directly interact with, scientists can obtain results from people across the country and even around the world.
Decreasing unnecessary procedures: If a patient had an MRI last week but it was done at a different hospital, the test may need to be repeated if the record is not sharable. When test results and other pieces of a patient’s medical record can be sent and received effectively, providers will be aware of recent treatments that person received. This in turn saves time and money by preventing unnecessary tests, imaging and other procedures.
Increasing coordination: Knowledge sharing also improves coordination between departments and organizations. When communication is improved, providers and other members of the staff have a better idea of what is going on in different areas of healthcare and can plan their own actions accordingly.
Stimulating innovation: When healthcare professionals have access to more information, they are more likely to think of creative solutions for improving processes and best practices.
These numerous benefits are encouraging healthcare organizations to dedicate time and resources to the development of their sharing capabilities. According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, the percentage of hospitals that exchange laboratory results, clinical care summaries, radiology reports or medication lists electronically with outside hospitals increased from only 41 percent in 2008 to 82 percent in 2014.
The latest data brief from the ONC additionally reported that as of 2015, 52 percent of hospitals are able to find patient health information electronically. The ONC further stated that:
- 85 percent are able to send patient summary of care records.
- 65 percent are able to receive these records.
- 38 percent can use or integrate such records without manual entry into their own EHRs.
Barriers to sharing knowledge in healthcare
Despite these numerous benefits, knowledge sharing still faces a number of barriers in healthcare which prevent information from being shared as effectively as possible. The most prominent is technological limitations that prevent data from being sent, received and used between organizations – a capability known as interoperability.
According to HIMSS, interoperability in healthcare “is the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged. Data exchange schema and standards should permit data to be shared across clinician, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient regardless of the application or application vendor.”
Without this ability, it is difficult – if not impossible – to share information across organizations. Sometimes even teams or departments within the same group may struggle to communicate data effectively, potentially delaying treatment.
A data brief from the ONC found that the most common reasons that providers reported rarely or never using electronically transmitted patient health information included that:
- It is not viewable within their electronic health record (53 percent).
- Integrating information into the EHR is difficult (45 percent).
- The information is not always available when it is needed (40 percent).
- The information is presented in a format that is not useful (29 percent).
- They distrust the information’s accuracy (11 percent).
However, as these obstacles are overcome, the number of organizations using these methods is increasing. The data from the ONC revealed that more than half of hospitals reported that their providers use patient information that is electronically transferred from providers outside their own organization.
The role of health informatics in knowledge sharing
To ensure proper transfer of knowledge in the healthcare community, many organizations are turning to health informatics professionals to make this process as effective as possible. To properly manage healthcare knowledge, hospitals and other care groups need to be able to effectively capture, store, analyze and share the information, hallmarks of the role of an HI department.
By partnering with health informatics professionals, healthcare organization can more efficiently manage their own information and exchange data with other groups, ultimately improving the practice of medicine.
If you are interested in furthering your career in health informatics, consider enrolling in the online Master of Science in Health Informatics degree program with the University of Illinois at Chicago. Through the program, you will complete courses in topics such as the management of healthcare communication systems and communication skills in health informatics, helping to prepare you for a career working with data and ensuring that it is able to be properly shared.