Guest post by Abhinav Shashank, CEO and co-founder, Innovaccer.
A personal health record of any patient, whether it is an aging parent, a spouse or a child with a chronic illness, contains a summary of medications, lab results, visit notes, billing information and more, and interoperability makes it easy to manage all these files and documents with just a few clicks.
Every form of health data makes an entry in an EHR today thanks to the shift towards a digitized healthcare in U.S. Although this has made data entry, storage, retrieval and exchange easier, it has brought with it certain challenges. Integrating and utilizing EHRs is the first baby step; however, if we are to overcome all the hurdles then achieving 100 percent EHR interoperability is the summit where we are yet to reach.
Physicians want to optimize the full potential and promise of EHRs for the simple reason that improved communication between systems will lead to a better and enhanced care. Once all the systems in use nationwide are connected and interacting with each other, patients will find it easier to seek a second opinion as their health information will reach the physician in a matter of seconds.
How interoperability exists today
Today, various interoperability standards have developed for the sake of continuous improvement in this realm. Health Level Seven (HL7) has produced the likes of HL7v2, HL7v3, and the latest FHIR as competent standards that exist in the industry for better streamlining of documentation and care coordination. With the help of FHIR, physicians can access health data on their mobile phones through various API (Application Programming Interface) functions that FHIR supports. This ease of access to complete and accurate patient data, in due course, helps in many ways. As providers and health coaches work together on improving the health of people, it also significant for them to be able to access accurate data from sources other than EHRs. Apart from EHRs, HIEs have popped up in various places that allow for the smooth flow of data across the health care network.
Ways in which interoperability facilitates healthcare
Physicians can easily access and share medical information with their patients and perform their tasks with greater efficiency. This could be done by increasing the efficiency of monitoring chronic diseases. Besides saving time and labor cost, physicians and patients with access to interoperable health information can benefit from higher-quality patient outcomes. Interoperable EHRs carry the potential of giving easy and ongoing access to patient’s health records to the physician. For a doctor to have an updated and detailed medical history of his patient cannot just be live-saving, it will mainly help those people who are always on the move. This will empower an individual to move across the continuum of care seamlessly with their clinical record.
Doing more with less
As value-based care and reimbursements stepped into healthcare, the US managed to turn the tide towards a more qualitative and equitable delivery of care. This has made physicians more responsible for better patient health outcomes than ever before. To manage hospital readmission and managed care plans, physicians need to have as much patient information as possible at hand at all times. This is where interoperability comes into play by aggregating and relaying data from disparate regions and bringing it onto a single platform.
For a secure data exchange to take place amongst healthcare organizations and patients, it’s important that both parties are willing and equally involved in the sharing process. This will inevitably lead to shared decision making apart from the fact that the physician will be able to make quick and informed decisions. The ultimate aim is to have a complete understanding of the health status of patients and helping them navigate effectively in their health journey for a better patient experience.
Patient-centric interoperability is the direction in which healthcare is slowly moving. There’s so much that we can do with the availability of data. Ongoing monitoring of patient data can better facilitate the ongoing management of that patient’s health and the physician can intervene where necessary. With this, patients too can track their progress and work towards improving their health hand-in-hand with the physicians.
Challenges that interoperability is yet to solve
One of the issues that interoperability is dealing with today is the vast and disjointed patient data that exists in regional HIEs and independent, transactional databases like EHRs. Along with this, patient privacy concerns and consent are other risk factors that need to be considered when diving through protected health information data. Lack of a common standard, state policy rules, workflow and policy difference and the need for incentives are some barriers in the way of achieving 100 percent interoperability.
Future of interoperability in the healthcare industry
The prospective affairs in healthcare will not concern itself with the challenges of interoperability. As people are increasingly — while also successfully — engaging in their own health and care decisions, we can gauge that this trend will sustain itself in the future. To ensure that right care is provided, at the right time, to the right person and at the right cost, all of us should be able to safely and securely send, receive, find and use clinical and billing information through our electronic systems. The interoperable, secure exchange from the patient’s device to his caregiver and back will show the true capabilities of health information technology that we can leverage in years to come.