The Affordable Care Act in general and the troubled launch of the federal health insurance exchange in particular have bolstered the business case for data sharing and engaging consumers, according to eHealth Initiative, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

The firm released its 10th annual survey of health information exchanges, which shows that while electronic health records and other electronic information systems have made data sharing within hospitals and health networks routine, health care delivery organizations are increasingly challenged by the need to interface with clinical and administrative systems outside of existing networks.

Three-quarters of the 199 survey participants report they have had to construct numerous interfaces between different systems to facilitate information sharing, a process that is both time consuming and expensive.

“The recent challenges with insurance exchanges have helped people understand just how difficult it is to connect data, whether it’s clinical, personal or administrative,” said Jennifer Covich Bordenick, chief executive officer, eHI.

Sixty-eight organizations surveyed have had to build 10 or more interfaces with different systems, and more than 140 cited interoperability as a pressing concern.

The survey also shows that many health information exchanges have not yet developed ways to allow patients to enter or view their own data. Only 31 organizations currently offer patients access to their information. Moreover, even simple patient engagement services, like tools for managing appointments or prescriptions, are rare. This could change in future years, however, as 102 organizations reported they have plans to offer patients access to their data.

“While it’s a little disheartening to see such low patient engagement, overall I think we’re in a better place than we were last year. Awareness around health care reform has helped build the business case for data sharing and engaging consumers,” said Bordenick.

eHI is a membership organization that researches, educates and advocates for innovative solutions to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of care through information and technology. In 2013, eHI identified 315 data exchange initiatives in the U.S.; of those, 199 completed the survey. Survey respondents represented a mix of community data exchanges, statewide efforts and health care delivery organizations.

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