The wide array of technologies utilized in the health care industry offers providers a number of advantages, from enhancing patient care and streamlining clinician workflows to increasing access to data and reducing costs. When such solutions don’t integrate with other technologies and systems, though, they often result in problems, mitigating the benefits they’re designed to offer.
This lack of operability between technologies causes frustration for many health care providers. It can even increase the likelihood of physician burnout. To combat this issue, the United States’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which is responsible for advancing connectivity and interoperability of health information technology, initiated in 2015 its Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap. This detailed, 10-year plan is designed to achieve nationwide health information exchange.
What is health care interoperability?
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) defines health care interoperability as “the ability of different information systems, devices and applications (systems) to access, exchange, integrate and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational, regional and national boundaries, to provide timely and seamless portability of information and optimize the health of individuals and populations globally.”
Interoperability enables communication between and across disparate systems, multiple devices and software systems and allows data to be exchanged and interpreted by hospitals, physician practices, laboratories, pharmacies and other health care providers in a user-friendly way.
HIMSS lists the four levels of interoperability as:
- Foundational: Establishes the inter-connectivity requirements needed for one system or application to securely communicate data to and receive data from another.
- Structural: Defines the format, syntax and organization of data exchange, including at the data field level for interpretation.
- Semantic: Provides for common underlying models and codification of the data, including the use of data elements with standardized definitions from publicly available value sets and coding vocabularies, offering shared understanding and meaning to the user.
- Organizational: Includes governance, policy, social, legal and organizational considerations to facilitate the secure, seamless and timely communication and use of data both within and between organizations, entities and individuals. These components enable shared consent, trust and integrated end-user processes and workflows.
Obstacles to interoperability
The road to health care interoperability might seem easily navigable, but it’s paved with challenges, including a lack of standards, inconsistent clinical terminology, privacy and security concerns, the use of outdated legacy systems and the sometimes high cost of customized system interfaces. Some providers, especially smaller hospitals and physician practices, aren’t able to afford the expense of connecting multiple systems and data sources.
These obstacles are a large part of why fewer than 4 in 10 health systems can successfully share data with other health systems, even though interoperability could save the U.S. health care system more than $30 billion a year. Clinicians waste on average 45 minutes per day by utilizing outdated communication technologies, resulting in waste, inefficiency and the afore-mentioned burnout, which can lead to elevated patient safety risk.
Access, efficiency and other advantages
Approximately 75% of health care organizations have at least reached the most basic level of interoperability and are more easily able to exchange data with other providers’ systems. A reported 80% of providers disclose that electronic data exchanges increase their efficiency, and approximately 90% say this sharing of information has improved their patient’s quality of care.
Interoperability gives providers easier and real-time access to complete electronic health records and patient data, allowing them to make more informed decisions about a patient’s care without waiting for other records to be sent or accessed by another provider or system. It enhances support for management of chronic diseases, including better prevention, and helps reduce unnecessary medication errors by decreasing redundant data entry by clinicians.
Although the most obvious benefits of health care interoperability are improved quality of care and patient outcomes, other advantages include:
- Improved staff productivity, including less time needed to find and update records
- Reduced paperwork
- Fewer duplicate tests and procedures
- Increased patient satisfaction by negating the need for filling out multiple forms for each provider
- Reduced medical errors due to inaccurate data entry and documentation illegibility
- Improved care coordination
- Enhanced continuity of care
- Increased patient engagement
- Reduced administrative costs
- Decreased overlapping of workflows
- Increased capabilities for real-time recording and reviewing of patient information from an integrated system at the point of care
- Improved regulatory compliance
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