In the new digital era, most people expect their most critical information to follow them. Whether filling out credit card information, re-ordering from their favorite restaurant, or speaking to a customer service representative, they want the most critical information right where they need it. However, healthcare still lags behind retail in information saving and sharing.
Over 60% of hospitals in a 2021 survey said they electronically share information and integrate care summaries into electronic health records (EHRs), a 51% increase from 2017. Despite this progress, interoperability remains a challenge for many healthcare providers. Yet, increasing interoperability offers providers key advantages and makes them a leader in their space.
This blog discusses how interoperability benefits providers, the current obstacles that must be overcome, and the steps that can be taken to achieve interoperability.
Interoperability is the seamless exchange and use of data across different healthcare systems and technologies. True interoperability allows hospitals, clinics, and laboratories to share information in a unified, standardized format so that providers can easily read and interpret the data.
The American Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has identified four levels of interoperability for health IT. Referred to as the HIMSS Interoperability Maturity Model or the HIMSS Analytics Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model (EMRAM), each level builds upon the other:
- Foundational. At this level, two or more healthcare systems can exchange data, but the data may not be easily interpreted or integrated into the receiving system. Foundational interoperability establishes basic connectivity and ensures data can be exchanged.
- Structural. This level is the ability of healthcare systems to exchange data in a standardized format so that data can be interpreted and integrated into the receiving system. It has a consistent format and can easily be shared between systems.
- Semantic. This is where healthcare systems can exchange data and use it meaningfully. Semantic interoperability ensures that data has the same meaning to all systems and can be accurately interpreted and used in decision-making.
- Organizational. The final level refers to the ability of different healthcare organizations to work together in a coordinated way, sharing data and collaborating on patient care. It focuses on ensuring data is shared across the entire healthcare continuum so patients receive optimal care wherever they receive treatment.
Each of these levels must be achieved to reach full organizational interoperability, where different healthcare organizations can work together in a coordinated and collaborative way to improve patient outcomes.
Interoperability is the next step in the future of healthcare. It provides both providers and patients with crucial benefits:
- Seamless care. When providers can easily access critical information, patients can receive the best possible care regardless of their treatment.
- Improved collaboration. Providers can access and share patient information in a standardized format to easily read and interpret results and histories from other labs and providers.
- Reduced medical errors. Communication is critical in healthcare. Providers can access critical patient histories and information quickly to provide the most accurate care.
- Enhanced medical research. Interoperability enables researchers to access and analyze large amounts of patient data, identify trends and patterns, and develop new treatments and therapies based on the data.
While the healthcare industry strives to digitize patient records, some obstacles prevent true interoperability. Some of the most common issues that providers face include:
At least 70% of providers use fax to exchange medical information. It’s still the predominant way that providers communicate with other healthcare entities, which means that significant amounts of paper records must be inputted into the provider’s EHR after receiving it.
Many providers use point-to-point solutions to connect with entities, such as other providers and labs, and custom code their interfaces for clinical applications. The connections between EHR systems also sometimes rely on outdated standards for healthcare information exchange.
Providers are often overburdened with paperwork when using EHR solutions. In fact, doctors report spending almost a third of their time managing inbox notifications regarding requested records. Providers need a more efficient way to organize information exchange.
Healthcare providers have a variety of EHR systems that do not always speak the same language. It makes it challenging to exchange data between the systems and sometimes results in errors or omissions in patient records.
Overcoming these barriers required using solutions that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NPL). Technology today helps integrate unstructured data seamlessly and makes critical connections allowing providers to exchange data throughout the care journey.
Achieving interoperability requires a multifaceted approach to IT healthcare. Here are some of the critical steps that organizations can take to reach interoperability:
How you approach interoperability depends on your organization and goals. Instead of limiting your objectives to formal compliance with CMS and ONC interoperability regulations, consider how interoperability can be a long-term strategy to become a leader in your market.
Determine the goals of interoperability implementation and use it to decide the time frame and resources needed to complete them. Concentrate on the benefits and long-term return on investment, and plan for the short-and long-term expectations.
Your goals will help you decide on a strategy to achieve interoperability. Outline which steps need to be taken with measurable transitional goals and how you will comply with any applicable regulations and interoperability standards.
While achieving a higher level of interoperability requires a shift, replacing your entire existing infrastructure is not always necessary. Instead, you may want to expand your interoperability and get the maximum benefits from your current tools.
Review your existing software, hardware, applications, and databases to understand how each data point impacts the patient experience and how they work with each other.
Interoperability requires investments in technology to support data exchange. It may involve developing new systems to integrate data from multiple EHRs or using application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable different methods to communicate and collaborate. Once you understand your current solutions, consider what tools best support your interoperability goals.
Buy-in is one of the most significant factors in avoiding workarounds and ensuring successful interoperability. Educate providers and staff on the importance of data sharing and the advantages of interoperability. Providers should also be trained on new systems and data exchange standards.
EHR vendors and experts you work with will be essential in helping you achieve interoperability. Work with vendors to ensure your systems are interoperable and can communicate with other systems.
Patients play a critical role in helping organizations achieve interoperability by giving consent for providers to share their data. Educate patients on the benefits of sharing data and how it will help improve their treatment, outcomes, and accessibility. For many patients, privacy is a concern. Let them know the steps you are taking to protect their privacy and security.
Achieving interoperability is challenging and complex, but it is essential for improving patient outcomes, enhancing efficiency, and advancing medical research. Taking the right steps will help you work towards achieving a more interoperable healthcare system that benefits everyone involved.
Reaching interoperability requires the right experts and a solution that has your needs and goals in mind. Contact us today to find out how GeBBS can be a vital tool for achieving interoperability.