Electronic health records (EHRs) contain a trove of information that can potentially benefit both public and private enterprise, says Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, M.D., in the Annals of Internal Medicine. With the data aggregated and patients’ identity protected, countless possibilities exist for new products and clinical capabilities. Blumenthal likens this emerging opportunity to the discovery of a new natural resource that must be “extracted, transported, and refined.”
Managing Digital Health Data
Creating electronic patient data will fall in large measure to frontline clinicians, who are expected to reap minimal rewards for their efforts—except the hope of future improvements in patient care. While increasing the usability of EHRs would help, for clinicians the burden will likely always outweigh the benefit.
Patients will have a stake in this new opportunity as well. Even when records are deidentified, there remains a small risk that privacy will be compromised at some point. At a minimum, individuals must consent to surrender their information with the understanding that others may profit financially from it. New regulations also will be necessary to protect consumers from unanticipated and possibly harmful effects, including unsafe or fraudulent products.
The commercial and noncommercial use of digitized health data holds enormous potential for advances in patient care, but the process will be neither straightforward nor without costs. Only by addressing the interests and security of all stakeholders can we ensure that all parties are treated fairly and that risk—human, legal, and economic—is minimized.