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Breaking through the Noise: 5 Challenges to Achieving Interoperability in Healthcare

By , DO, Medical Director
Interoperability, Population Health & Wellness
Challenges to Achieving Interoperability in Healthcare
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Infographic Interoperability in Healthcare

5 Challenges to Achieving Interoperability in Healthcare

Given that interoperability in healthcare is so important, the question is: Why is it so hard to achieve? Health systems understand clinicians need access to patient records no matter where they may be. So, what’s preventing them from making interoperability a reality?

The answer, it turns out, is actually quite complicated. Healthcare organizations are working towards interoperability—they’re investing in electronic health records (EHRs), for example, as a first step toward eventual data integration. However, the challenges to achieving interoperability go beyond EHR implementation.

Here are five of the biggest challenges:

  1. A need for strong standards

A 2015 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) listed “insufficiencies in health data standards” as the number one challenge reported by health industry stakeholders struggling to achieve EHR interoperability. The issue, as described by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in a report delivered to the U.S. Congress, is the “lack of universal adoption of standards-based EHR systems.”

  1. Impediments around privacy and security

According to the ONC, another hurdle in the way of interoperability in healthcare involves the “complex privacy and security challenges” of data exchange. States have different laws around patient privacy, so healthcare organizations in one state may have trouble exchanging data legally with organizations in another.

  1. Difficulties with patient matching

The GAO points out that when patient records are stored in multiple EHRs, it can be hard to ensure that one person’s data is not confused with data belonging to someone else with the same name, birthday or other identifying information. Until a universal identification system is created (Medicare is phasing out the use of Social Security numbers), patient matching will continue to be a problem.

  1. Concerns about costs

There are enormous expenses associated with achieving interoperability, from the cost of customizing EHRs to enable connectivity, to the legal fees that come with signing agreements with partnering providers. As the healthcare industry moves toward value-based care and models of reimbursement rewarding better care coordination, there may be more incentives for such investments. For now, however, interoperability is expensive—and few organizations seem willing to spend.

  1. The lack of collaboration

The GAO cites a “need for governance and trust among entities,” while the ONC calls for “synchronous collective action among multiple stakeholders.” The problem, in other words, involves poor cooperation—the inability, for whatever reason (policies around patient privacy, concerns about data security), of organizations to team up and get things done.

There are obviously other challenges to achieving interoperability, including the need for any interoperable system to fit seamlessly into the clinical workflow. The good news is that none of these challenges are insurmountable—they should all be overcome in a matter of time.

Interested in learning how to overcome these challenges to interoperability? Check back in December to read Carol’s next blog on how to achieve interoperability in healthcare.