If you’re visiting Vegas, sitting at the blackjack table and you’re a little down on your luck and want to borrow some money, within minutes the casino can view your financial history in great detail and make an actionable decision about whether or not to lend you money.

If you later walk out of that same casino, get hit by a car when you are crossing the street, and end up in the emergency room, that ER doctor has no idea if you were just released from the hospital in your hometown yesterday after a heart attack or if you’ve never been sick a day in your life.  Not to mention many other actionable pieces of health care information – for instance, are you allergic to penicillin, have you had all of your immunizations, etc.

So what does this tell us about the state of technology in healthcare?  The technology clearly exists. The financial industry has been doing this for years.  While the data security must continually evolve as the data breach threats evolve, the data security does indeed exist. The bad things that can happen if your financial information is being shared across a tightly integrated financial network are potentially much more predatory than the types of bad things that would happen against a similar health network.
In the financial industry, the incentive clearly exists; no banking institution wants to lend money to a bad credit risk.  Are the incentives similarly aligned in healthcare?  Although many strides have been made, there are still many challenges.  For healthcare technology to succeed in improving patient outcomes and reducing overall cost, aligning the economic and health benefit incentives across the healthcare spectrum is clearly a major piece of the puzzle.
Immunizations is one area where these leaps in technology are being made today, and where both the provider and the patient are able to recognize tangible health and economic benefits.  Existing interoperability technology allows all immunizers to query the patient’s immunization history from the state registry.  This immunization history is then factored in to determine which immunizations the patient is due to receive.  With a full immunization history and recommendations, the provider can provide better preventative care to protect patients and those around them from vaccine-preventable infectious disease.  In most cases, particularly for adults, this history allows the provider to confidently identify additional immunizations that the patient needs thus driving the economic incentive.  For the patient, this data sharing technology reduces the risk of over-immunization (saving the patient and/or health plan money), increases the chance that the patient will be fully immunized (improving health), and enables the patient to conveniently receive a copy of their full immunization record to use for school entry and/or employment requirements (saving time and money).
Too often, the attention moves away from these outcomes and instead focuses on perceived barriers that limit progress.  Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and all other clinical providers need and want this information. State health officials need and want to share this information.  The technology exists to make it happen. If we focus on implementing the technology to serve the needs of the clinical and public health community, the real beneficiary is each and every one of us.