Physicians Face Flood of Unsolicited Data

Posted on October 30, 2013 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 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.

Over the last few years, the sources of information an EMR can contain have exploded. Where it once included only clinical information generated by the provider, these days EMRs may also embrace health information exchange data, input from personal health records, contributions from patient mobile device use and remote monitoring data.

As iHealthBeat writer Michelle Stuckey points out, this information may not have been requested by the provider, but they have to contend with it anyway.  Adapting to these new data sources is possible, but for the near term, it’s likely to disrupt provider workflows and affect the usability of their EMRs.

To combat this problem, AHIMA recently came out with a practice brief which outlines the challenges unsolicited health information can pose for providers. The brief makes several recommendations health organizations should consider in handling the problem, including the following:

  • Develop policies with providers that outline which unsolicited information will be retained
  • Create policies that establish the legal definition of the health record, and which unsolicited information fits the criteria
  • Review the incoming information to determine whether a patient-provider relationship exists, and verify that the information is needed for treatment
  • Develop protocols, by specialty, clinical area or document type which establish which types of information will be accepted into the EMR
  • Provide education to all providers and staff in the health organization on steps to be taken when they receive  unsolicited health records

While it’d be nice, in some ways, for EMRs to remain in silos — at least for those who use them — it simply isn’t going to last. Data is going to come at doctors from every angle, including some we probably haven’t even considered yet.  Forward-looking medical organizations should take a hard look at the AHIMA recommendations before they’re swamped in data they can’t handle.