Consider The Portable EMR

Posted on October 19, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The other day I was reading the Huffington Post, and was surprised to stumble across a rather interesting article promoting the benefits of a “portable” EMR. Now, for HIT fans like ourselves, the word portability implies having data travel from one provider directly to another in a usable manner. But author David Black, who describes himself as a “software guy” and Technology Partner at Oak HC/FT, has something different in mind.

For Black, the best way to share healthcare data would be if the patient carried it around from place to place and updated it as they travel from provider to provider. To be more specific, the portable EMR is an app with all of the patient’s healthcare data and history stored in it. The app would serve the purpose Microsoft Outlook does for email, with the data stored and backed up in the cloud, available to sync to any device.

As Brown sees it, not only would this be a way to keep data at patients’ fingertips, it would be a better way to control access to PHI as well. As he notes, many apps ask permission to access data such as email contacts. In this case, the app would ask permission before sharing the data with medical professionals. None of the data would be “locked up” in an EMR, he says.

Now, while I’m intrigued by this idea, I can see several problems that would result from wide adoption of this approach, including the following:

* Safety and security of the data stored in the cloud:  I’m no legal expert, but from what I’ve read about the healthcare cloud, any cloud vendor with which a provider works must be a full Business Associate under HIPAA, and meet the data security standards involved. I doubt many cloud services chosen by a consumer are in compliance, and that needs to be resolved before these become too popular.

* Securing of the consumers’ data:  Ok, let’s say that the cloud-based backup arrangements were kosher. Live ePHI is still resident (and probably quite hackable) on the consumer device which contains the EMR portability app. How can consumers protect it adequately, and if they don’t what happens to systems within the provider organization that access it?

* Carrying the device:  Even if the consumer data in the portability app is secure both in the cloud and on the device, that device still has to travel with the patient. No one wants to carry a laptop everywhere, smartphones and tablets have usability issues and other devices come with their own questions. Also, if the patient’s phone or laptop gets smashed in a car wreck, but providers need current health data to treat them, where do they get it?

Despite these complaints, I do see the benefits of Brown’s approach. Putting portability into the patients’ hands has not only accessibility benefits, but also stands to boost patient engagement. (And in fact, I know of at least one company – full disclosure, a client – that’s actually doing something along these lines.) But the model that Brown is proposing has many challenges to address.