How EHRs can embrace true interoperability

Feb. 27, 2018
Courtesy of MEDITECH
Lawrence O’Toole
Associate Vice President, Strategy,

Healthcare organizations are struggling to match patient data and locate records across fragmented systems. In order to provide the best care possible, providers need an Enterprise Health Record (EHR) that makes health data available in all care settings. It’s an EHR vendor utopia to have every healthcare organization utilizing their software, however, that’s not a reality. For this very reason, true interoperability—which is cross-system, cross-platform, and real-time data exchange using standards—is so important. Interoperability shouldn’t be a burden to any healthcare organization, instead it should be a support mechanism adopted by default within an EHR because capabilities should be embedded into and augment workflows, not take away productivity and time with the patient.

The benefits of seamless care across the healthcare continuum, improved patient safety and a greater efficiency for care providers is not so out-of-reach. The framework has already been set toward a true interoperable network—here’s how vendors should embrace interoperability to benefit healthcare organizations and their communities.

Be committed to standards

Unenforced standards create barriers to the flow of information and delay seamless health data exchange, however, that shouldn’t stop vendors from taking the initiative to be leading providers of standards-based interoperability features for data and document exchange. Complying with interoperability requirements defined by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS), Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), helps healthcare organizations connect with ease across the continuum of care, HIEs, and federal and local public health agencies. Membership in the Argonaut Project, among others, is also beneficial to advance industry adoption of modern, open interoperability standards such as FHIR. In the end, the beneficiary of all this activity and attention to detail is the patient—trusting the healthcare industry to treat them efficiently and safely.

Be a team player

In the name of patient safety and data exchange, vendors have an obligation to deliver on the promise of care coordination by seamlessly exchanging information through C-CDAs, APIs, FHIR, HL7, Direct Messaging, and the like. Active participation in large-scale industry organizations such as the CommonWell Health Alliance—a vendor-neutral collaboration of companies enabling healthcare providers to exchange patient data nationwide—help champion industry-wide, standards-based exchange. This is one important avenue to ensure that processes are developed and supported by standards to promote cost-effective, patient-centric care. Other networks such as Carequality and Sequoia eHealth Exchange1 network, HL7 International, and the ONC Direct Interoperability Workgroup2 all have widespread interoperability at their core, too. It’s counterproductive, costly and time consuming to rip-and-replace EHRs for another just to achieve interoperability. Plus, exchange across platforms has further attention focused on it with the passing and coming enforcement of the 21st Century Cures Act3, as any determined instance of information blocking will be met with a significant monetary penalty.

Empower the patient with their data

One of the main challenges to healthcare organizations is not data collection, it’s disseminating that data into the care continuum to make it useful to care providers and patients. Having access to patient data in real-time helps care providers treat their patients more effectively and can lead to a reduction in readmissions and medical errors. An integrated and interoperable patient portal is an effective tool that gives patients the resources to make their health a priority—from scheduling appointments, viewing lab results, to paying bills and communicating with providers. Patient empowerment and engagement is at the forefront as patients are becoming more involved with their healthcare. In fact, telehealth and personal activity tracker devices can collect meaningful patient-generated health data (PGHD) that can be shared to a patient’s portal, keeping the patient and care provider on the same page.

Be prepared to adapt

While the future of interoperability can’t be predicted, it helps to anticipate, collaborate, and be prepared. The ONC’s roadmap for healthcare interoperability4 released in 2015 explains the department’s plan for achieving interoperability across the entire healthcare industry over the next decade. In the ever-changing landscape of healthcare, it’s important to have foresight and readiness to adapt. Interoperability isn’t a one-time deal. It needs nurturing through the years. Healthcare organizations and vendors need to be agile, and quite frankly, ready for anything. Subscribing to and using accepted standards makes adoption easier and effective for all players.



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