The New Interoperability Rules Are Nearly Here. Are You Ready?

By Sandy Phillips, CIO, HIE Networks.

Sandy Phillips

The patient was prepped and ready on the operating table when the surgeon realized he only had a report of a CT scan and would need the actual images that were taken by another health system to successfully perform the procedure. Normally, this would either delay the surgery or tempt the doctors to try the procedure without all the relevant information.

Luckily for everyone involved, the hospital was a participant of a health information exchange (HIE). Within a few minutes, the surgeon had access to the necessary images through our secure portal and began a successful operation.

Interoperability is critical for planned and unplanned procedures. Today, COVID-19 patients often enter a hospital short of breath in desperate need of emergency attention – yet, as many hospitals work now, that patient is expected to produce their extensive medical record of allergies, conditions, medications, and previous operations while gasping for air.

Although medicine continues to greatly advance, most care providers still dwell in the world of dinosaurs: faxing, printing, burning CD-ROMs, and relying on the patient’s ability to produce medical histories.

A recent report by the National Academy of Medicine found that workflow and inadequate technology usability were major factors contributing to America’s alarming medical staff burnout rate. Customers who use modern network technology greatly benefit from seamless access to patient files that used to lie beyond their health system’s servers, easily communicating between other healthcare providers and patients themselves. Patient care is hard enough today without technical and communication failures.

While the federal government is ushering the medical records system into the 21st century through new interoperability and patient access rules going into effect in 2021, providers would do well to stay ahead of mandated changes before it’s too late.

The first thing medical networks need to do to be compliant with these fast-approaching rules is to make sure they are ready to “implement and maintain a secure, standards-based” Patient Access API and a Provider Directory API. This change will take time and resources, so now is the time to start.

For many providers, the most common technical obstacle to interoperability compliance is faxing and the training necessary to implement modern alternatives to faxing. The fax machine is a favorite of outdated medical systems straddling both the modern world and the world of the dial-up dinosaurs.

Fortunately, the most cost-effective method for providers to transition to the modern world happens also to be the easiest: ditching the dial-up dinosaurs. Half-in, piecemeal progress out of the old system duplicates efforts, can lead to HIPAA violations, and avoidable mistakes.

Many providers are wary of technological change because they imagine it will disrupt their workflow. Providers should look for a network (such as HIE) that customizes digital workflow for every customer, replicating the current office structure for ease of transition to the modern age. Once the workflow has been replicated digitally, everyone benefits from secure, accessible, and organized notes, messages, images, and test results.

Every medical organization is simultaneously handling the challenges of COVID-19 while planning their next steps to be compliant with the new HHS interoperability rules coming next year. The best way to handle these changes is to partner with an industry leader like HIE Networks that knows exactly how to help.

While some medical organizations desire to operate in yesteryear, those who have fully transitioned away from the age of the dial-up dinosaur have added value to their shareholders, employees, and patients.

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