71% of providers say interoperability not attainable by 2020

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Less than a third of provider organizations believe that current federal policies, committees and regulations are sufficient to help the country attain meaningful health IT interoperability by 2020.

That’s among the findings of the eHealth Initiative’s just-released 2017 Survey on Access to Patient Information.

Researchers conducting the survey say the lack of confidence in the nation achieving interoperability over the next few years does not bode well for the healthcare industry as it transitions from fee-for-service to value-based care.

While the survey of 107 respondents, including provider organizations and HIEs, found that 79 percent agree that strong interoperability capabilities are a key IT requirement for a successful transition to value-based care, 68 percent of those surveyed say that current interoperability solutions in the market are not meeting their needs as they transition to value-based care.

Also See: Lack of payer, provider info sharing complicates shift to value-based care

Nonetheless, 58 percent of respondents indicated that their interoperability budgets will increase over the next two to three years. Not surprisingly, providers see interoperability as having a potentially positive impact on expediting access to patient data (87 percent), closing referral loops (82 percent), enabling patient access to data from their medical records (82 percent) and identifying gaps in care during an encounter (81 percent).

“Clearly, there’s a sense that we need to get this done—this information is critical to care,” Jennifer Covich Bordenick, CEO of the eHealth Initiative, said on a webcast reporting the results of the survey. “There’s a strong intense desire to get there, but we’re just not there yet.”

“The survey’s interesting because it really gets at the heart of some of the problems to be solved,” said National Coordinator for Health IT Donald Rucker, MD, who also spoke during the webcast.

When it comes to patients having access to their health information, Rucker said “the ultimate goal here is for patients to have the data on their smartphones.” That’s where he observed the latest web standards such as the RESTful application programming interface comes into play. “It’s what’s driving the entire smartphone economy.”

Widely used in other industries based on open, consensus-based standards, Rucker believes RESTful APIs have the potential to serve as the core functionality to support data access in healthcare, becoming the enabler for health information exchange. “We’re really getting onboard with much broader industry standards,” he added. “That will allow patients to directly interact with their care.”

According to Rucker, the 21st Century Cures Act includes provisions that “driving this access” to patient data by—among other activities—calling on health IT developers to publish APIs to help enable the access and exchange of health information. Toward that end, the ONC chief believes RESTful data-sharing APIs have the potential to solve the problem of HIT interoperability in healthcare.

“Congress has basically asked for standards around what is interoperability,” added Rucker, who noted that the Cures Act mandates that providers and electronic health record vendors provide “open APIs without special effort.”

To accomplish this, he contends that, “as a practical matter” it will require modern interface tools such as the RESTful web standards, which HL7’s emerging Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) currently leverages.

In that regard, Jon Zimmerman, vice president and general manager of value-based solutions at GE Healthcare Digital, commented during the webcast that it’s time to “step back and take a look at the world from a consumer- and patient-centric perspective” and “increase that patient-consumer experience.”

According to Chris Muir, director of HIT infrastructure and innovation in ONC’s Office of Standards and Technology, one of the goals for interoperability is to get data to “flow between apps and other typical tools that help consumers manage their health.”

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