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One of the most significant requirements in providing high-quality care is also one of the most difficult to achieve — true interoperability between healthcare providers, systems, technology and information. It’s a problem throughout the healthcare supply chain. Disparate vendors, processes and standards all create barriers to delivering good patient outcomes.

It’s not an issue that healthcare providers can ignore. Rising costs, greater patient expectations and a shift to value-based care mean that providers must move towards improved healthcare interoperability. We need to get our systems, processes and technology talking to each other, from our health information systems and electronic health records to our communication and collaboration technology.

The healthcare industry as a whole needs to tackle these issues, and the following areas will be key to creating better interoperability:

NO CONSISTENT WAY TO IDENTIFY PATIENTS

There is no way to consistently identify a patient across multiple systems or providers. Patients can give their name, date of birth, and other identifying data, but because different systems store this information in different ways, errors are possible. There is a push towards a unique patient identifier — a code that could be used to categorically identify the same individual no matter what system or provider they used. Unfortunately, we are still far from getting this most basic of functionalities in place.

LACK OF STANDARDS FOR SENDING, RECEIVING AND MANAGING INFORMATION BETWEEN EHR SYSTEMS

It’s difficult to simply copy information from one piece of EHR software to another. Mismatched types, strange data fields, and proprietary formats mean that data has to be manipulated and sanitized before it can be imported into another system. This lack of a common standard for capturing, transmitting, receiving, storing and managing patient data causes delays and inaccuracies.

DIFFICULTY WITH MEASUREMENT, ANALYSIS AND IMPROVEMENT OF INTEROPERABILITY BETWEEN HEALTHCARE SYSTEMS

You can’t improve what you can’t measure, and it is difficult to quantify the cost, error rate and other issues caused by a lack of healthcare interoperability. Vendors and providers need a standardized way to measure the impact of interoperability delays and failure, as this will incentivize improvements. Once providers can measure issues across the end-to-end healthcare supply chain, they can analyze problem areas, make improvements and monitor how those changes are improving the quality of care and patient outcomes.

VENDORS BLOCKING INFORMATION OR CHARGING FEES FOR INTEROPERABILITY

Some EHR and healthcare system vendors are holding patient data for ransom. They charge fees for transmitting data outside the system, increasing operational costs and making providers less likely to send data to others in the healthcare supply chain. The government is acting to encourage interoperability, but not all vendors have taken this on board — yet.

There is some good news — vendors and Health IT businesses are realizing that interoperability is a key requirement for providers. Over the next few years, we should see some convergence towards common standards, a reduction in fees, and a better flow of EHR information. On an organizational level, healthcare providers can make their own improvements, which together with larger industry trends will enhance healthcare, resolve problems and lower costs for everyone.

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