“Wisdom alone is true ambition’s aim, wisdom is the source of virtue and of fame; obtained with labour, for mankind employed, and then, when most you share it, best enjoyed.” – Alfred North Whitehead

There is an important lesson here with ramifications for health IT: What is the good of information if not shared and used improve mankind? Now that many hospitals and medical practices have implemented EHR/EMR systems, they have a vast amount of powerful health data. Questions are now being asked to determine how digitized health data can be further shared to benefit researchers, public health officials, and the communication between medical institutions/offices.

Secondary use of data is defined as clinical, financial, administrative and self reported data that is aggregated, analyzed and presented in a concise, actionable format for the purpose of identifying trends, predicting outcomes and influencing patient care, drug development and therapy choices.

There are some forward thinkers: many academic institutions have received NIH grants to support the integration and sharing of electronic health data for research. However, health IT and EMR vendors may need to follow this trend closer when developing their specific operating platforms to ensure secondary use compatibility.

 In a PriceWaterhouseCooper online survey conducted in May-June 2009 with more than 700 participants, comprising over 110 pharmaceutical and life sciences companies, over 130 payers and over 480 providers, many problems were identified in utilizing secondary data.

  • 65% thought secondary data had an insufficient level of detail and integration with their EHR system
  • 65% identified timeliness of obtaining secondary data a barrier
  • 60% found secondary data incomplete
  • 58% had difficulty with aggregation of data
  • 57% found a lack of standards for data and coding
  • 53% had concerns about accuracy of data
  • 52% had insufficient tools to analyze data
  • 18% had privacy and security concerns

Another major challenge for secondary data is the sheer number of parties wanting information to suit their own agendas, each having their own priority of concerns. There is a wealth of data, but payers, providers, pharmaceuticals, patients, researchers, and public health officials need to unite to define some standards for the industry at large. What data is truly necessary, and how can this data be used most efficiently? With the extensive list of stakeholders involved in secondary data use, devising a system to accommodate each of them may be a difficult feat.

 EMR technology presents major benefits to a hospital system or medical practice, but also to other stakeholders who could aggregate data between individual entities. With proper standards and the utmost ethical judgment, secondary data could prove to significantly accelerate positive health outcomes, advances in healthcare delivery/disease surveillance and unprecedented research opportunities. We are in the health information age where knowing is not the only power, sharing is too.