Let’s say you get a deal at the store on some of your favorite movies. You get comfortable, make the popcorn, and sit down – only to realize you don’t have a device on which to play your new flicks.

Some technology in healthcare is like that. It boasts a plethora of features and has a sleek design, but it doesn’t integrate well with other software solutions. Therefore, it doesn’t enable healthcare providers or payers to realize its full benefits.

We’ve explored how many healthcare providers have been frustrated with the lack of interoperability between technologies designed to streamline workflows and improve patient care. Research shows that technology challenges that hinder access to software can delay the work of clinicians as can software functionality. A lack of interoperability often results in more than wasted time; it can also result in “inefficiency and clinician burnout, which can contribute to patient safety risk.”

doctors at community hospital

It comes with a hefty price tag as well: the annual cost of lost productivity and increased patient discharge times for U.S. hospitals is approximately $8.3 billion. Research shows this cost is attributed to the use of outdated, non-integrated systems for delivering patient care.

Let’s look at challenges to interoperability as well as a plan of action to promote it, one that focuses on the right mix of experts enabling communication and allowing data to be exchanged. 

Common challenges to interoperability

Approximately 75% of healthcare organizations have at least reached the most basic level of interoperability. Why, though, haven’t more succeeded in improving their ability to more easily exchange data with other providers’ systems?

According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), 6 overarching challenges inhibiting electronic data exchange in healthcare include:

  • technical
  • financial
  • trust 
  • administrative
  • reporting requirements
  • IT usability

Other notable obstacles include a lack of universally-adopted standards, the use of outdated legacy systems, privacy and security concerns, inconsistent clinical terminology and inconsistent the sometimes-high cost of customized system interfaces.

doctor and data

For smaller healthcare providers and those in rural areas, procuring access to the right mix of experts who are well-versed in integrating technology solutions to promote interoperability isn’t always easy. Instead, they may forgo interoperability initiatives that would otherwise provide improved quality of care and outcomes, better access to patient records, and cost savings.

Perks of achieving interoperability

Healthcare providers able to achieve higher levels of interoperability offer enhanced security and access of private and protected health information (PHI). They have more data with which to make informed decisions about a patient’s care without waiting for other records to be sent or accessed by another provider or system.

Interoperability can help mitigate physician burnout, a prevalent healthcare industry problem that can be compounded by disparate EHR systems. Such burnout has the potential to result in a lack of empathy for patients and increased medical errors along with costing the healthcare industry approximately $4.6 billion annually.

The ONC estimates that healthcare system interoperability could save the United States healthcare system more than $30 billion a year by reducing malpractice lawsuits, hospital stays, and patient visits. Some research that suggests countries that prioritize interoperability and data sharing rank higher in measures of healthcare quality.

Having experts in place who can establish and manage the seamless exchange of data also helps to meet the patient expectation of convenience. Interoperability allows organizations to give patients easy access to their full medical history, including medication lists, laboratory test results, hospital admissions, and other records. It also allows them to be more active in their own care and achieve continuity of care across all their providers.

doctor with patient in waiting room

Government interoperability initiatives

The U.S. government has been attempting to fix the healthcare interoperability problem for almost a decade. In 2015, ONC initiated its Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, a detailed 10-year plan designed to achieve nationwide health information exchange. ONC is primarily responsible for advancing connectivity and interoperability of health information technology.

More recently, in 2020, ONC announced the Final Rule of the 21st Century Cures Act. Its goals are to:

  • advance interoperability for improved patient and provider access to data
  • expand the data elements
  • enhance communication between various health IT systems and mobile applications used to store and maintain health information
  • spur patient access to data via personal devices
  • promote patient control of their electronic health information to enable apps to provide patient-specific price and product transparency

Under the final rule, health IT developers are required to use open, standardized APIs, and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®) Release 4.

On July 1, 2 of the policies from the May 2020 Interoperability and Patient Access final rule took effect. One requires hospitals with certain EHR capabilities to send admission, discharge, and transfer notifications to other providers. The other enforces the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requirements for certain payers to support Patient Access and Provider Directory APIs. 

An interoperability action plan for providers

Although the transition to improved interoperability might seem overwhelming for some healthcare providers, there are cost-effective ways to navigate this complex process. Let’s take a look at a 3-step plan of action:

  1. Conduct a readiness assessment of existing technology solutions and the advantages they offer.
  2. Identify and document the overall goals your organization wants your interoperability initiatives to meet.
  3. Partner with a human capital management organization with extensive experience in the area of interoperability.

Here at Harmony Healthcare, we deliver expert leaders who can manage your organization’s path to seamless data exchange. Our team of specialists can plan, build, and manage solutions that are timely and cost-effective and that fit the specific needs of your organization. Their work will:

  • optimize the patient journey
  • secure better healthcare results
  • protect your digital infrastructure
  • adopt industry-standard platforms and applications
  • increase profitability

Let our tenured consultants secure your existing and future investments on the path to successful digital transformation and interoperability!

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