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Breaking through the Noise: How to Achieve Interoperability in Healthcare

By , DO, Former Medical Director of Transcend Insights
Interoperability, Population Health & Wellness
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Infographic Interoperability in Healthcare

How to Achieve Interoperability in Healthcare

My last post on interoperability in healthcare addressed the various challenges that lie ahead, including the need for collaboration and strong health data standards, issues related to privacy and security and concerns around everything from patient matching to costs. Clearly, there’s work to be done before clinical teams have unfettered access to patient records across the continuum of care. But what will that work entail, and how will it get done?

The consensus among healthcare teams and information technology (IT) vendors alike is that interoperability will only become a reality through a combination of federal legislation, stakeholder cooperation and technological advancement.

The Federal Push and Legislation

Discussions around how to achieve interoperability might go on for years if not for a concerted push by the federal government. Toward this end, Congress recently passed a law called the 21st Century Cures Act, which authorizes more than $6 billion “to accelerate the discovery, development and delivery of 21st century cures, and for other purposes.” One of those many “other purposes” involves furthering healthcare data exchange through regulations requiring electronic health record (EHR) vendors to make their systems interoperable.

Along with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC’s) “Interoperability Pledge,” which asks EHR vendors to voluntarily commit to interoperability, as well as the ONC’s 2015 “Interoperability Roadmap,” which calls for nationwide interoperability by 2024, the 21st Century Cures Act is exactly the kind of boost stakeholders need to clear the biggest hurdles of interoperability.

Stakeholder Cooperation

According to the ONC, its Interoperability Pledge has now been signed by EHR vendors representing 90 percent of the U.S. market. However, there are other signs of stakeholder cooperation as well. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), for example, in its 2015 report on “Nonfederal Efforts to Help Achieve Health Information Interoperability,” describes a number of initiatives focused on the challenges of data exchange. Healthcare organizations and other industry stakeholders, the GAO reports, are modifying their EHR systems to improve clinical workflows and care-related decision-making. They’re working on ways to secure patient consent to facilitate data exchange without violating privacy. In addition, they’re tackling issues related to cost and governance by agreeing that interoperability is in everyone’s best interest.

Advancements in Technology

The last major requirement for achieving interoperability involves the technologies upon which data exchange depends. Here, too, there’s plenty of recent progress, from the use of blockchain technology to improve the security of patient records, to the growing acceptance of a data-exchange standard called Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). FHIR, which was developed by a group called Health Level Seven International (HL7), makes information sharing faster and easier—and is an integral element of Transcend Insights’ HealthLogix platform.

In the end, there is no easy answer to the question of how to achieve interoperability in healthcare. However, most of those who are working to make it happen—by advancing technology, passing new laws or by collaborating with their colleagues across the industry—report that they’re making progress every day. The fact is, interoperability is in our future, and that future is a lot closer than we think.

Interested in learning more about interoperability in healthcare? Read our white paper “Interoperability in Healthcare: Closing the Gap between Patient Expectations and Reality” for a deeper dive.