Interoperability has become a buzzword in healthcare, and for a good reason. Technology continues to permeate every part of the industry and patients are accessing care from a wide variety of touchpoints—making the ability to securely share and process data imperative. Other factors driving the need for improved interoperability include the transition to value-based care, heightened regulatory attention, and the growing use of incentives for data sharing.
Despite the buzz around interoperability, the journey toward it has been slow and arduous. It requires commitment and change from all angles. HIMSS details four levels of interoperability that must be fully realized:
- Foundational: Securely connecting one system to another
- Structural: Defining format, syntax, and organization of data for interpretation across systems
- Semantic: Standardizing data codification to enable shared understanding and meaning across users
- Organizational: Establishing necessary governance, policy, social engagement, and legal standards to facilitate secure, seamless, and timely communication and application of data
Though there is only so much that can be accomplished at an individual practice level, it is still critical to take the steps you can toward improved interoperability.
Why invest time and resources in interoperability initiatives?
One of the main reasons to improve interoperability is its potential to positively impact patient care. In recent regulatory moves, HHS has made it abundantly clear that patients are the priority and deserve healthcare providers who will work together to:
- Ensure seamless communication about patient care
- Empower patients to be more informed and proactive in their health decisions
- Enhance patient security via a closely monitored system and detailed user tracking
Another key reason to improve interoperability is to limit waste and error. Without clear visibility into the most current health records and information, patients spend unnecessary time updating the same forms and files while clinicians end up running repetitive tests and procedures to acquire the information necessary to make the best care decision. This waste is costly—in terms of overall time, drain on the practice, and expense to the patient. Similarly, real-time insight into patient history and status reduces errors by ensuring providers can receive and interpret information efficiently and accurately.
Finally, improved interoperability represents a significant opportunity to cut administrative cost and burden. In a siloed, manual world of data, healthcare staff are forced to spend hours wading through patient information and faxing documents while clinicians burn out from endless EHR tasks and to-dos. An interoperable system allows for easy, safe, minimal-effort input and exchange of data, as well as useful routing rules and filters to streamline processes and reduce stress. These benefits are influential in allowing providers to practice at top-of-license and staff to focus their efforts on efficient workflow.
Where to focus your practice’s efforts
As mentioned, there are many ways to improve interoperability in the healthcare space. To help you best direct your resources at the practice level, we’ve compiled a short list of steps to take:
- Shift attitudes: A major hurdle in the journey toward interoperability is the fixation on the competitive disadvantages that may occur when information is shared between facilities, practices, and providers. To combat this mindset, refocus your staff and clinicians on how transformational interoperability is for patient care. In the long term, relinquishing control and working together is the only option.
- Get educated: Spend focused time getting familiar with interoperability standards and recommendations from ONC, HHS, HIMSS, HL7, Direct Trust, and other trusted industry organizations. Engage stakeholders from various levels and roles in your practice to ensure that your priorities are aligned and initiatives are successful.
- Commit to change: The industry has dragged its heels on interoperability for too long. Do your part to accelerate progress by resolving any internal data issues and building trust with other healthcare practices in your community.
- Be smart in partnership: Be picky with your vendors, choosing only those who are patient-centered, security-focused, and forward-thinking. Work with partners who prioritize collaboration and share similar values to ensure a sustainable working relationship.
Speaking of partners…
On the hunt for the right vendor to support and advance your interoperability efforts? PSM’s custom interoperability solutions can help your practice ensure your patients, providers, and technology needs are fully integrated, ultimately benefitting patient experience across the continuum. Schedule a complimentary consultation to see what we can accomplish, together.