The ability to share healthcare data efficiently is crucial. For example, if provider A orders a diagnostic test, provider B doesn’t need to repeat it a week later. Sharing healthcare data can also illuminate areas of improvement that can drive quality up and costs down, from reducing medication errors to ensuring more accurate diagnoses. Healthcare providers that benefit from sharing data range from hospitals and health systems, specialist and physician offices, labs and diagnostic centers to walk-in clinics, long-term care and post-acute care facilities, and public health agencies.

Nearly all of these groups agree that healthcare data should be shared, but there are a myriad of political and technical roadblocks standing in the way of making this a reality. One of the biggest challenges to sharing healthcare data is interoperability—can system A communicate with system B and provide it with meaningful and timely information?

Until disparate information systems can seamlessly integrate, many healthcare providers are relying on public and private Healthcare Information Exchanges (HIEs), middleware software that can transfer data from one system to another to help ensure electronic health records are complete and integrated. These exchanges offer providers a longitudinal view of a patient’s behavioral, social and health histories. The healthcare market has traditionally lagged behind other industries, such as retail, banking and transportation, in adopting these exchanges, but data sharing is growing among healthcare providers.

Once engaged in an HIE, the question becomes, “What can you do with the data?” It’s one thing to use it to ensure provider B doesn’t duplicate a test that provider A already ordered; it’s another to use it to create major efficiencies and quality-based programs across a diverse group of providers. That’s what Premier, an alliance of approximately 3,750 U.S. hospitals, demonstrated in 2013 with its QUEST data-sharing collaborative. Over a nearly five-year period, an alliance of 333 U.S. hospitals committed to sharing both outcomes data and expertise. The results? 92,000 lives saved and a $9.1 billion reduction in cost.

By collaborating across alliances, healthcare providers can mobilize HIEs on local, state, regional and even national levels to implement common standards and frameworks for EHRs, helping them achieve true interoperability. If hospitals nationwide implemented the data-sharing practices from QUEST, Premier estimated that these providers could save nearly 1 million lives and $93 billion over a five-year period. When establishing an HIE, the objective shouldn’t be to simply push digital paper back and forth; the goal should be to exchange useful data. HIEs should allow providers to aggregate data, run business analytics queries and apply best practices from evidence-based medicine to deliver alerts and recommendations across the patient community.

Explore more about how to overcome challenges to interoperability of patient data in our white paper.