By Scott E. Rupp, publisher, Electronic Health Reporter.
On March 21 HIMSS representatives vice president of government affairs, Tom Leary, and senior director of federal and state affairs, Jeff Coughlin, hosted a roundtable with members of the media to peel back a few layers of the onion of the newly proposed ONC and HHS rules to explain some of the potential ramifications of the regulations should they be approved.
The CMS proposed regulation is attempting to advance interoperability from the patient perspective, by putting patients at the center of their health care and confirming that they can access their health information electronically without special effort.
ONC’s proposed regulation calls on the healthcare community to adopt standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) and presents seven reasonable and necessary conditions that do not constitute information blocking.
According to HIMSS’s assessment of both proposals there’s room for interpretation of each, but the organization has not yet fully formed a complete response to each as of this writing.
However, Leary said: “It’s important to emphasize that all sectors of the healthcare ecosystem are included here. The CMS rule focuses on payer world. The ONC rule touches on vendors and providers. All sectors really are touched on by these rules.”
With both, ONC and CMS is trying to use every lever available to it to push interoperability forward and is placing patients at center, Coughlin said. The healthcare sector got a taste of how CMS plans to empower patients through its recent MyHealthEData initiative, but the current proposal places more specifics around the intention of agency. Likewise, the ONC rule is attempting to define the value of the taxpayer’s investment in regard to the EHR incentives invested in the recent meaningful use program.
Key points of the rules
Some key points to consider from the rules: APIs have a role to play in future development of the sector and are seen as a real leveler of the playing field while providing patients more control of their information, Coughlin said.
HHS is focusing on transparency and pricing transparency. For example, there’s movement toward a possibly collecting charge master data from hospitals and, perhaps, publishing negotiated rates between hospitals and payers, which HHS is looking into.
What happens now that rules are out? According to HIMSS, education members is the first step to understanding it and responding to the federal bodies. “What we’ve done is focus on educating HIMSS members in briefings,” Coughlin said. “Trying to get early feedback and early impressions from members, convening weekly conference calls to address parts of the rule. Once we have critical mass then we work with executive leadership to make sure what we are hearing from membership to is reflected across the membership.”
Looking into the future?
For health systems, the broad exchange of data likely remains a concern. Data exchange within the ONC rule impacts providers and health systems in a number of ways, especially in regard to the costs of compliance to meet all of the proposed requirements.
HIMSS representatives are not currently casting a look into a crystal ball or if they are (they are), they’re not yet ready to tip their hand regarding what the organization intends to pursue through its messaging on behalf of its members.
“We’re not in a place to see where we are going to land,” Coughlin said. “We are hearing from our members about the complexities of rules and what’s included. It’s hard to overestimate how complex this is. ONC and CMS in designing broader exchange of information is something that speaks very well of them, but (this is) complex in interpretation and implementation.”
Information blocking exceptions, the default is broader sharing of information across the spectrum. More information has to be shared and expectations need to be defined, they said. From HIMSS’ perspective, compliance is the primary issue of its members. The question that needs answering is what kind of burden is being placed on health systems and providers. Leary is confident HIMSS will spend a good bit of ink in its response on citing potential concerns over information blocking and what that might mean.
“It will be helpful for the community to have examples and use cases for what’s included especially for exceptions for information blocking,” Coughlin said. “We need examples to clearly define the difference between health information exchange and health information network.”
There is a growing interest among healthcare organizations to leverage actionable analytics solutions to derive valuable insights from data. Advanced, AI-driven predictive modeling is working to build healthier populations that meet the demands of value-based care, and new digital experiences are reaching providers and patients through a diverse array of touchpoints. Digital health solutions, driven by new and emerging data sources, are creating a unique combination of high-touch care management complemented by automated, virtual care.
This digital transformation in healthcare is being driven by the changing nature of the healthcare landscape, as well as the demands from consumers for more say in their care. The healthcare industry is making significant investments in IT to engage and empower patients, enable caregivers and improve operating efficiencies. However, the industry is also facing pushback from the caregiver community, with many physicians feeling that interacting with an EMR reduces their productivity. Physician burnout and unrealized expectations from technology investments have created a mood of caution in digital investments.
However, the digital transformation wave is still coming, since the proven patient health benefits, as well as industry improvements, are simply too great to ignore. Given the abundance of software-driven tools, technology professionals face the crucial task of integrating applications and data among the various players in the healthcare ecosystem including doctors, hospitals, government, device makers, insurers, employers, pharmaceutical companies and patients. Seamless transitions of care between these constituencies, however, are still a major hurdle, and positive patient experience is decided by the totality of patient care carried out by all those — both within and outside — of a health system. Shared processes between clinical entities are only possible if the data can journey smoothly from one system to another.
The problem today is that there is over-engineering in healthcare with overlapping and rich data standards and formats, and implementations that stay locked tightly in proprietary strongholds.
How to Make Interoperability Work
It is imperative that digital transformation initiatives focus on interoperability and integrations through well-defined application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs are designed so that systems with validated credentials can query and access systems widely available on the internet. Systems are then designed to respond to queries from programs with data that is machine-readable.
APIs deliver the ability to securely and efficiently access repositories of big data from wearable devices, social media, curated public datasets, research, and episodic care. They are the key to better understanding patients’ financial, social and behavioral context, and through predictive and prescriptive analytics can reveal trends across populations and micro-populations. With the explosion of disparate technologies, it will be about connecting them all quickly and efficiently to gain a competitive edge in healthcare.
Guest post by Justin Rockman, vice president of sales and business development, Surgimate.
Since the late ’80s, the inflexible and cumbersome Health Level 7 (HL7) protocol has been the standard form of sending messages between healthcare applications. However, HL7 integration is timely to implement, technically limited and costly. It is not uncommon for a medical practice to face upwards of $10,000 in expenditure for one simple message.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) have recently become a fashionable alternative. The term API sounds complicated, but it’s really just a way in which software applications (like your EHR) can talk to other systems, and exchange large amounts of data rapidly and securely. In short – they support better, faster, cheaper interoperability.
In addition to transmitting data between systems, APIs offer the ability to plug in chunks of functionality to another system, in a clean and predictable manner. Instantaneous and seamless interaction between systems is the leanest and trendiest way to design software in 2018. New applications should not “reinvent the functionality wheel” but provide unique integratable services.
As the EHR market estimated to reach $28 billion in 2016, it is no surprise that tech titans like Amazon, and Apple are looking for ways to get a slice of the pie. With top of the line products sure to come from those companies and others, here are 4 reasons why healthcare IT vendors must offer their clients a way to integrate using APIs.
Physicians need easy access to data supported by EHRs, but hate the time it takes to manually enter patient information. It’s no wonder – doctors typically spend 50 percent of their day working with an EHR. If a physician isn’t happy with the usability or efficiency of their system, they’ll drop it and choose another. While the annual EHR adoption rate among providers is 67 percent, the EHR vendor switch rate is about 15 percent.
APIs offer cheaper and deeper integration options. For EHR vendors to provide better value for their customers they must embrace the API and ditch the expensive, outdated and rigid HL7 protocol.
Using an EHR that is integrated with other programs will make switching systems even more inconvenient. EHR vendors who give customers the additional functionality offered by their partners will be rewarded with brand loyalty, and lower churn.
An Additional Revenue Stream
Innovative EHR vendors are partnering with upstart technology companies to generate additional revenue. Greenway and athenahealth advertise an array of solutions in their marketplace, and provide partners with utilization of their APIs. In exchange, they receive monthly or recurring payment for each license sold. Since most practices already have purchased an EHR, finding new revenue streams is crucial for a company’s growth.
The healthcare API market is predicted to exceed $200 million in the next few years. Former engineers from Epic Systems saw the industry’s need for interoperability and raised $15 million in venture capital to found Redox – a company solely focussed on building bridges between healthcare applications. Creating platforms that deliver easy integrations at reasonable costs will greatly benefit the healthcare industry.
Joanna Gorovoy, senior director product and solutions marketing, Axway.
To accelerate the shift toward value-based care – organizations across the healthcare ecosystem must find new ways to unlock value from an ever-expanding array of data sources to create data-rich digital services and experiences that improve patient engagement, enable delivery of more personalized healthcare services, and increase clinical collaboration and care coordination across the patient journey. Developers play a key role in accelerating innovation that will shape the future of healthcare and positively impact patient outcomes. But innovating at the speed of digital is challenging in an industry that has long been plagued by interoperability challenges, a prevalence of legacy, siloed systems and applications, and heightened data privacy and security requirements which hinder digital projects. As a result, there are a few key things developers should keep in mind when designing for today’s healthcare market.
You can’t spell interoperability without A-P-I
The frustrations associated with sharing information have burdened the healthcare industry’s digitization efforts for many years. With application programming interfaces (APIs) taking hold, however, data exchange is now easier to accomplish. APIs are revolutionizing data sharing by making it possible to bridge legacy IT systems of record, such as electronic heath records (EHRs), with modern systems of digital engagement, such as mobile apps. Healthcare developers must take an API-first approach and will need to gain knowledge of the latest healthcare interoperability standards – such as FHIR. FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is an HL7 standard that simplifies the exchange of healthcare information and promotes the use of APIs to support light-weight integration, facilitating secure data access and interoperability. As healthcare developers increasingly leverage APIs to move beyond some of the challenges associated with secure data sharing and opening up proprietary EHR systems, this will result in faster time to market for innovative digital services and experiences.
Create a sound security strategy
Security must always be top of mind for healthcare developers. Before writing a single line of code, healthcare developers should familiarize themselves with HIPAA regulations that protect all personal health data transactions and impose hefty penalties for violations. As developers design apps that leverage patient health data from a variety of sources, they need to take the time to understand how this law works and must be mindful of how to mitigate security concerns. Adopting a full lifecycle API management solution enables developers to secure and manage FHIR and other healthcare APIs in a unified way across projects and communities, ensure data security and streamline compliance and help reduce the data security burden by using built in, configurable audit trails and reporting.
Inviting external innovation
Healthcare organizations are increasingly looking to invite open innovation into their organizations as they struggle to keep pace with digital transformation. Organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, Johnson and Johnson and Stanford, for example, have hosted developer challenges and hackathons to stimulate innovation and bring in fresh perspectives from developers outside of their organization/industry to help tackle big problems such as healthcare access and affordability. As the industry struggles with IT modernization challenges, developers who have experience working across multiple industries can provide a fresh point of view and can contribute skills and approaches they have gained developing applications for other industries/use cases to provide value to healthcare.
Have you ever thought how giant enterprises like Facebook, Google and Microsoft have harnessed big data technology so spectacularly well? These consumer-centric industries are continuing to succeed at a global level. Do you know what they all have in common? APIs.
Short for “application programming interfaces,” APIs are like connectors that allow you to access information on your application or software. It’s basically how two softwares talk. APIs are the not-so new big thing in the tech sphere and to make a headway into delivering top-notch quality care, it’s high time we embraced them for a better tomorrow.
Constraints in healthcare today
Given the complex nature of modern day healthcare data exchange, providers are themselves held back from tapping the full potential of the available data and utilizing it to drive the best possible outcomes.
Problems arise in the very initial steps of care delivery. Accessing or exchanging the medical information of any patient who reaches a facility is a most basic requirement that should be fulfilled at the very outset of care. But, the slow and long-drawn fragmented process of data exchange, siloed nature of data sets and lack of interoperability hinders a smooth transfer of information from one provider to another.
How then is it possible to carry out comprehensive care for a patient with only partial information about the patient? How about if, the traditional and complex process of data exchange were to be replaced with a simpler, easier and faster technology.
In a world where API is a reality, sluggish data integration and exchange ought to be passé.
Simple, modular and interactive
These efficient little elves (techie companies prefer to call them APIs) make things way simpler on the surface — quite literally! While using a low-maintenance infrastructure and only a few lines of code, these elves will open that door for you to be able to engage and interact with your patients at large.
Why should healthcare take to APIs?
Sweeping changes and new data sources are continually making their way into healthcare and with that there is an ever-growing need among healthcare organizations to share information. Patients, as they become aware of their health status, too are demanding greater access to their health information. Below are some pointers laying out why APIs are a better alternative than existing means like static databases for exchanging health data:
It saves time and resources.
Data is exchanged in real-time at faster pace.
Its processing is autonomous and easy to manage.
It makes information readily available on all devices, mobile or immobile.
It allows for very little delay in receiving or extracting information.
It facilitates seamless and secure data sharing.
Keeping technicalities aside, let me tell you that standardization is simpler with APIs and that is a huge plus point because it’s easier to process information when everyone speaks the same language. True, EMRs also work through APIs, however, open APIs can enable you to use whatever type of data on whichever device. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have your lab results and prescriptions appear on your phone, your vitals clear on the screen and your appointments listed on your calendar? APIs enable this and a lot more.
All that’s great. But what’s in it for the providers?
By bringing APIs into the fold, providers can make use of interfaces that are uniquely designed for their systems, helping them attain better clinical decision making.
They can use APIs to build their own custom apps and can have vital information about health conditions, medications, surgeries, and other details for use in their own applications or platforms.