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Assessing progress toward interoperability in healthcare | Data Book podcast

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John Blair, CEO of MedAllies, talks about the strides that have been made, the work that must be done, and the hopes for TEFCA to make interoperability a reality.

When John Blair founded MedAllies more than 20 years ago, he talked about the frustrations doctors shared about their inability to get the information they needed.

Image: MedAllies

John Blair, CEO of MedAllies

Doctors would see a patient and they’d be startled to find out the patient had recently been hospitalized. Primary care doctors would say they wouldn’t get the information after a referral.

Back then, Blair recalls having optimism that such problems could be solved, and relatively quickly.

“I remember saying, we'll get this straightened out within a couple of years,” says Blair.

While there’s been a lot of progress, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. In the latest episode of the Data Book podcast, presented by Chief Healthcare Executive®, Blair talks about fulfilling the promise of interoperability, the exchange of health information across the industry. The CEO of MedAllies since its creation in 2001, Blair talks about the progress and the work that remains to be done.

“Here I am, over 20 years later,” he says. “And we are certainly much closer. But it's kind of like going snow skiing. When you're going up a lift, you go over one mountain and you think, ‘OK, I'm here at the top.’ And then you see there's another bigger mountain. And then you go over the next mountain, and there's another mountain.”

“So yes, I have been in it all through this time. And I've seen many different approaches. And thankfully, we are much further along. But we still have a long way to go.”

MedAllies works with more than 100,000 providers, and more than 800 hospitals, to communicate more easily and exchange health information. Healthcare leaders have long touted the value of interoperability, saying it will improve patient care if providers and health systems have easier access to the patient information they need.

Blair says the progress shouldn’t be dismissed, noting that 70% of the nation’s hospitals are connected to some national network. But there are still hassles in exchanging information, and patients lose out, he says.

“Think about having to come back to a second appointment just because some information wasn't there,” Blair says. “And you now need to reschedule or even worse, come back for a second appointment, and they have to repeat tests that you just recently had. So I mean, it's hard to believe in this day and age that still happens, but it happens much more often than you think.”

Healthcare leaders such as Blair are optimistic about more progress in interoperability, now that the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) is live. In December, MedAllies became one of five organizations that had achieved the government’s sought-after designation as Qualified Health Information Networks. They’ve been recognized as having met the requirements to support the exchange of data under TEFCA, which establishes guidelines for sharing health information.

Blair says he thinks that TEFCA will make a difference.

“This has been well thought out,” Blair says. “It's a massive, massive undertaking.”

In the podcast, Blair talks about why he’s bullish on TEFCA, the challenges to improving the exchange of data, and how it could lead to better care while reducing costs. He also talks about his early years in building MedAllies, and how his work as a surgeon informs his work as the leader of a healthcare technology company.


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