Simply put, interoperability is making the right information available to the right person at the right time across the healthcare continuum, in a way that can be relied upon and meaningfully used by the recipients. Given that, this is the perception of interoperability in the U.S. healthcare industry, the acceptance and adoption of interoperability has been appallingly slow.
According to Peter Sondergaard, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Research for Gartner, “Information is the oil of the 21st century and analytics is the combustion engine.” We live in the age of information and communications revolution, then why is it that in healthcare, relevant information is not readily available to the relevant individual even today?
Patient health records, often stored electronically, need to have smoother accessibility because it concerns the two very basic objectives of the U.S. health care- improving quality of care and reducing costs. Going by statistics, interoperability has the potential to lower health costs in the US by $30 billion annually. Moreover, an analysis by the West Health Institute estimates that 97% percent of addressable waste is attributed to the lack of interoperability, out of the $36 billion, which is totally wasted.
Value of interoperability for patients
Why you might ask, does everyone need to have access to a shared single source of truth? Because people’s lives are at risk! Interoperability acts like the third party or middlemen to facilitate exchanges etc. in a network, ergo making things innovative, efficient and transparent. It is hard to deny the benefits of a seamless transfer of information between and within a care setting, more so for the patients.
With 100% interoperability in our health systems, the patients can own their health data and use it in a way that fits their daily activities. They can update their records on the fly in an easy to read format for their providers. They can present it to their clinician, PCPs or caregivers as and when required. All of this makes the entire care process more thorough and therefore, improves the overall quality.
To list down some of the most obvious benefits of an interoperable health IT for patients, we could say that they can:
- Access, edit, update and share their medical records whenever they wanted.
- Communicate with physicians online and even go for virtual visit thus saving valuable time and resources.
- Patients have the autonomy to permit their caregivers to view their records and have control over what data they share and whom they share it with.
- Give their information to their physicians so that can use that information to advocate for their care.
This way, interoperable health IT will support real patient-centered care while also enhance patient and caregiver engagement. The timely access to data will enable smoother workflows, fewer delays, less redundant work, more efficient care, and thereby provide more value to the patients. The cumulative effect of data availability will improve the overall population and public health.
While we are at it, let us not forget our providers and what they could get out of the interoperability bargain. With interoperable health IT providers can:
- Be informed about their patients at every point of care.
- Facilitate better coordination among caregivers
- Enhance decision-making due to the availability of more complete data
- Reduce errors within individual records and across records
- Reduce redundant testing and diagnostic procedures
- Produce more complete health records and more accurate data
- Promote better longitudinal tracking of patients
All the time clinical practitioners spend away from their patients on feeding data into systems has to be reduced to the lowest to get better outcomes. Improving efficiency will also improve the accuracy of data and the time taken to retrieve this data will be reduced to a minimum.
Interoperability will empower our care providers by giving them complete access to all data needed for care no matter the source of that data as it spanned the continuum of care. It will also ensure that there are no delays on behalf of the providers and no one is holding up care. This way, a more coordinated care is possible as technology is helping providers to proactively communicate and collaborate on the patient’s care.
Problems caused due to lack of interoperability
Despite concerted efforts, making the healthcare information system into secure and interoperable networks has not been easy. This has inevitably caused inconvenience to all parties involved in the care delivery process, especially the patient.
We often forget that patients form an important component in this entire deal about interoperability. While the industry as a whole is trying to get through the technical issues, what is really important is to get to the root of how patients could be empowered to seamlessly share their data. More so, with their consent, they should be able to provide the necessary data to the physician who is looking after their care and have that physician make changes to the data as the care process goes along.
E.g. Imagine Jerry is a patient with severe chronic ailments or conditions and is referred to different hospitals repeatedly where he is required to give all his information (registration, medical history, allergies, medications etc.) and repeat his tests and procedures due to a lack of availability of his complete data to his current care provider.
Now, imagine if his health records were truly portable and could move from one system to another without any hassle. Interoperability will solve the problem as with his consent, the information will be seamlessly and securely exchanged between and among the diverse systems he encounters as his care moves along. His care providers will have instant access to key data from other providers and care settings. Making data available to more participants in the care process will only seek to support improved care.
Moving past the blame game and looking for concrete solutions
Most physicians agree to the fact that EHRs made a patient’s records easily available at the point of care, thus enabling them to provide better care. Although there has been an increase in the number of providers using EHRs, most providers are reluctant to share data with other providers. Below are some of the ways that interoperability can be given the much-needed push:
- Ensuring patient consent
- Adhering to mandated meaningful use of EMRs by inculcating best health IT practices in care continuum
- Ensuring HIPAA compliant security standards
- Preventing data silos & high fees for data exchange
- Adhering to latest versions of interoperability & standard formats
- Enabling multi-device data sharing through API-based exchange
“Only finding data and presenting it is not enough, it needs to be integrated into a sharable, single source of truth.”
The Information exchange has to be tamper-free and secure. It should be communicated in a way that it cannot be misinterpreted, incomplete or leaked. Consolidated efforts are needed to speed the development and adoption latest standards to push interoperability forward. This is only possible if there is a pressing demand for interoperability on behalf of policymakers, healthcare providers, and patients. The pressure has already been created from above, now there needs to be pressure from below for the interoperable health IT revolution to kick in.
The road ahead
Interoperability can be the game changer for many stakeholders in healthcare organizations and if we really want a future with more efficient and value-added care, there has to be a more stronger advocacy of health data exchange in a manner that is meaningful or rather, usable.
Truth be told, there has been a substantial increase in the use of health information technology by providers. However, it hasn’t been effectively optimized owing to the lack of proper interoperability. What the healthcare industry calls “Meaningful Use” cannot be achieved without truly interoperable systems. The future of care delivery will be the access to comprehensive, real-time patient data at the point of care, which can only take place through sharing standardized data. Interoperability will disrupt the way care is delivered by not only improving patient outcomes, but also enhance data sharing, cyber security, patient experience, and clinical efficiency in the coming years.
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