Will Healthcare Interoperability Become the Next Health IT Mandate?

Lack of healthcare interoperability continues to throw its weight in the road of progress, stopping much traffic in its tracks.

But you know that already, don’t you; you work in healthcare IT. That electronic health records lack the ability to speak with their counterpart systems is no surprise to you. In fact, it’s probably caused you a great deal of frustration since the first days of your system implementation.

From my perspective, things are not going to change very soon. There’s not enough incentive for vendors to work together, though they can and in many cases are able to do so. The problem, though, is that vendors are not sure how to charge physicians, practices, hospitals and healthcare systems for the data that is transferred through their “HIE-like” portals that would connect each company’s technology.

The purpose of this piece is not to diverge into the HIE conversation; that’s a topic for another day. However, this is a piece about what have recently been listed as the biggest barriers physicians face when dealing with the concept of interoperability.

According to a recent report by Internal Medicine News, “Technical barriers and costs are holding back electronic sharing of clinical data.”

The magazine cites a study in which more than 70 percent of the physicians said that their EHR was unable to communicate electronically with other systems. This is the definition of a lack of interoperability that prevents electronic exchange of information, and ultimately will fuel health information exchanges.

It is notable that 30 percent of physicians said that their EHRs are interoperable with other systems. That makes me wonder if this is a verified fact or perception only verified by a marketing brochure.

Another barrier, according to the report, is the cost of setting up and maintaining interfaces and exchanges to share information. According to this statement, physicians are worried about the cost of being able to transmit data, too, which puts them in line with vendors, who, like I said, are worried about how they can monetize data transfer.

An interesting observation from the piece: “Making progress on interoperability will be essential as physicians move forward with different care delivery models such as the patient-centered medical home and the medical home neighborhood.”

What amazes me about this conversation is that given the purported advantage employees gain from the mobile device movement and how BYOD (bring your own device) seems to increase a staff’s productivity because it creates an always-on mentality. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think the same affect would be discovered if systems were connected and interoperable.

An interoperable landscape of all EHRs would allow physicians and healthcare systems to essentially create their own always on, always available information sharing system that would look a lot like what we see in daily lives with the devices in the palm of our hands.

Apparently, everyone wants and interoperable system; it’s just a matter of how it’s going to get paid for. And moving the data and the records freely from location to location opens up the health landscape like a mobile environment does.

Simply put, this is one issue that seems to resemble our current political landscape: a hot button issue that needs to be addressed but neither side wants to touch the issue because no one wants to or is able to pay for it.

One of the problems with this approach is that if we wait long enough, perhaps interoperability also will be mandated and we’ll all end up on its hook.

So, let’s take a lesson from the mobile deice world and allow for a greater opportunity to connect healthcare data to more care providers on behalf of the patients and their outcomes.