Optimizing interoperability by amplifying the clinician voice

Interoperability experts urge providers to offer their input and then jump in and take advantage of technology.

As healthcare organizations in the US move toward the new federal Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement for greater interoperability, experts say the industry has a long way to go.

In a presentation from the HDM KLASroom, Sutter Health's Steven R. Lane, MD, and Coray Tate, vice president of core solutions and interoperability at KLAS Research, identified current adoption gaps, and how provider voices and support could turn the tide toward interoperability.

“I would recommend investing in trainings, getting a good turnout, and then making sure that folks understand where the data is coming from, what it means, and how they will be consuming it.”

Tate shared some of KLAS Research’s latest data on the adoption of national interoperability networks. “In our last round of research, we saw that most of the market is at 33 percent adoption,” Tate says. “A whole bunch of the smaller healthcare organizations, where so much of healthcare takes place, just don't even know about or take advantage of the national networks.”

Clinicians’ input needed

“We need the clinician voice,” says Lane, clinical informatics director and head of privacy, information security and interoperability at Sutter Health. He believes that educated clinicians can help increase adoption. “We need clinicians to become aware that the tools do exist within their systems and to really demand of their IT partners, vendors and others that these tools get implemented and used.”

However, even organizations that have tools that give them access to outside data aren’t necessarily capitalizing on it, Tate points out. “I think a lot of organizations live below their privileges, and so they don't take as much advantage as they could of the data that’s there.” One reason for that, he contends, may be the condition of the data. “The data is not perfect yet. There are still issues, not only with getting it from place to place, but with having it be as consumable as it needs to be.”

Steven R Lane, MD, Sutter Health

That’s suggests another reason for organization leaders to lean on their clinicians, Lane contends, noting that clinicians know their tools’ weaknesses better than anyone else. “If you're a leader and you're trying to figure out where to start with interoperability, I think you should look inward. See what your organization’s pain points are. See where your system is either wasting money or frustrating the users, especially the physicians.”

To wait or take the plunge?

Many healthcare organizations feel safer watching the travails of early adopters instead of investing in interoperability networks and technology themselves. Lane and Tate both urge those waiting in the wings to seize their opportunities.

“If you're going to wait until it's perfect, you're never going to start,” says Tate, noting that early adopters had the same concerns that later adopters are having, such as how trustworthy the data is and how to best consume it. “But those early adopters have worked past that, to where they are hungry for more and are able to run much faster than those who are just getting started,” he observes.

Internal support from all stakeholders will help organizations start on the right foot, Lane says. “If you're going to move something forward, at least in an organization like mine, you need to have clinical champions, operational champions and executive champions.”

Training a key determinant of success

Tate also stresses that the level of training clinicians receive on how to use their tools and outside data will largely determine an organization’s degree of success.

“As we measure the clinician experience with the EHR, training is the primary indicator of whether an organization and the clinicians feel that things are pretty good or whether they're really, really frustrated,” Tate concludes. “I would recommend investing in trainings, getting a good turnout, and then making sure that folks understand where the data is coming from, what it means, and how they will be consuming it.”

Despite the challenges facing clinician acceptance, Lane is optimistic that they’ll eventually see the benefit of the technology, particularly in small physician practices.

“You may lack the local expertise and the time to focus on this sort of thing, but you should understand that there is there is real value in crossing this river and getting to the other side,” he concludes. “At one point, you had to invest in a billing system, and then you had to invest in your EHR. I think this is really the decade in which you should be investing in interoperability.”

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