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Weighing the Benefits and Challenges of Interoperability


Interoperability can improve patient care, satisfaction and safety.

Photo has been modified. Courtesy of Midiatismo.

Physicians want more interoperability — that’s nothing new. The inability to easily exchange personal health information (PHI) from one system to another has led to physician burnout and hinders the many benefits of electronic health records (EHRs).

Over the last decade, strides have been made to establish a nationwide system for PHI exchange. The 21st Century Cures Act brought more focus to data and system interoperability and in 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services renamed the Meaningful Use program to Promoting Interoperability to heighten its promise of achieving interoperability.

In a webinar hosted by FairWarning, a data security solutions company, Rick Duvall, chief information security architect at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Calif., and John Signorino, chief privacy officer at Geisinger Health System in Pa., spoke about the benefits of interoperability and the challenges of achieving it.

>> READ: Treating Healthcare IT's Interoperability Problem

Weighing the Benefits

One of the main attractions of interoperability is improving patient care, satisfaction and safety.

With interoperability, physicians will have a more robust understanding of patients and their conditions and will safeguard against medical errors.

For example, with access to all of a patient’s medical records, physicians will be able to see all of the medications a patient takes and possible allergies to certain medications. This will provide a more cohesive picture of the patient for the physician to make better clinical decisions.

Patients will also be able to go into the patient portal and see all of their records in one place, which improves their overall satisfaction.

Interoperability also promotes healthcare efficiency, reduces waste and unnecessary costs and adds revenue.

According to the Institute of Medicine, waste consumes about 30 percent of healthcare spending. And that can be avoided. Interoperability can decrease the number of duplicate tests ordered and can add to a system’s revenue by increasing referrals from providers.

Achieving interoperability between systems can also help population health, public health and value-based care initiatives.

Value-based care models pay providers based on patient outcomes, and interoperability can help provide doctors comprehensive information that is needed to get there.

Data sharing can allow doctors to see if people are going from doctor to doctor getting opioid prescriptions. This can be critical information in overcoming the opioid crisis, which is a nation-wide epidemic.

Overcoming Obstacles

Like anything that has long-term benefits, there are always going to be obstacles. And the healthcare industry knows that there are challenges in achieving interoperability, or else, well, we would have a nationwide system already in place.

EHR companies like Epic and Cerner are making money off their systems. They do not care about their systems being able to communicate with one another.

And there are many privacy and regulatory guidelines that need to be understood for both healthcare executives and patients.

It is important to understand what conditions patient privacy laws place on information sharing. Executives need to know what can be done without authorization, if despite data being able to be shared under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance there is a state law and if patients are informed about who has access to their data.

Patients must know how their data are monitored and it must be clear to them when doctors are able to review their information, especially with digital health tools like smartwatches that send real-time data to physicians.

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