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Health information technology has revolutionized how medical facilities collect and store patient data. But most of the technology systems in use today are not interoperable—different systems made by different vendors do not “speak the same language” and therefore cannot exchange information with one another. This presents a problem for clinicians who need access to patient data at the bedside, who need to coordinate care with other providers or who merely need to look up a patient’s medical records in preparation for their scheduled visit.
The reasons for this lack of interoperability are varied but include technological challenges associated with matching patient records, vendors’ unwillingness to work together, insufficiencies in health data standards and a lack of consistency in the rules and regulations around patient privacy in different states. There is also the issue of the steep costs involved in developing interoperable technology systems. Still, an increasing number of healthcare organizations, state governments, electronic health record vendors and other stakeholders are now working to make interoperability a reality. New standards for health information exchange are being developed, and healthcare organizations are beginning to demand that the technology systems they purchase be interoperable.
Furthermore, patients have indicated that they expect their various caregivers to have unfettered access to their medical records and be able to communicate with each other no matter where they are. Patients are demanding interoperability, and the industry is waking up to their concerns. The pursuit of interoperability in healthcare continues, but as the industry continues to adapt and evolve, it won’t be long before the chase ends.
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