HIT Think

Why interoperability matters to the current and future state of healthcare

In the modern world of healthcare, it’s critical for technology to be interoperable. Different EHR systems must have the ability to exchange information between providers. Offering better workflows, improved clarity, and better patient care, true interoperability between systems, however, remains elusive.

Fundamentally, interoperability delivers the opportunity for better care coordination and lower healthcare costs. The reality is that there are many different EHR systems, and when sharing patient data is vital to providing care, the inability of these systems to talk to one another results in hurdles and challenges.

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Because of this, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has identified interoperability as one of the most essential requirements to meet for verification in Meaningful Use Stage 2. HHS wants to ensure that patient information is accessible no matter where the patient is being treated.

Achieving interoperability isn’t easy, though—many components make it difficult. A leading challenge is the fragmentation of EHR providers. The EHR market is saturated yet dominated by the big names that create specialized EHR software. These companies don’t want to establish interoperability with smaller EHR vendors because it threatens their business.

Healthcare systems and physician practices also have reservations about interoperability. On the one hand, it would simplify workflows; however, they also realize that with streamlined patient record transfers, they may lose patients to other providers.

However, while most are still attempting to improve interoperability, they’re falling short. A survey from the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) found that one-third of hospitals and healthcare systems report their interoperability efforts are ineffective, including within their own organization. Further, only 37 percent said they were successfully sharing data with other healthcare systems.

The government has a role in interoperability-related difficulties, as well. The U.S. has already spent millions toward automating medical records, but the process has been stagnant. The government has also yet to create a performance standard for interoperability.

Data sharing must be a priority of the U.S. healthcare system. As of yet, many challenges haven’t been resolved, but the need to be interconnected will only intensify. Considering that more patients seek out specialists for chronic disease treatment, care coordination won’t go smoothly if all physicians don’t have access to the same information.

Further, according to the CCM survey, the lack of interoperability also leads to additional downstream activity hurdles, such as workflow improvements, new care-model development, and the advancement of population health.

Many organizations see the future of interoperability as adopting one integrated EHR system. This strategy is preferred but not always easily achieved, especially if the healthcare system is large and has many different users.

Some tools that could help all stakeholders realize interoperability include APIs, artificial intelligence and blockchain. Some healthcare systems are beginning to leverage these advanced technologies, but as of yet, usage throughout the healthcare community is not pervasive.

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