EHR interoperability and HIE remain major focus for health care sector

One of the long-tern goals the health care industry has been working toward is enhanced interoperability for electronic health records and other health IT. This is a part of the health care sector's plan to implement stronger strategies to improve care coordination by keeping the industry up to date with new technologies and patient needs. 

Integrating Accountable Care Organizations is the first major step that the industry is taking to enhance care coordination and improve quality of care. The ACOs focus on a team of health care professionals who work with one another to establish strategies for enhancing patient health outcomes within specialty care facilities. 

ACO members work to improve care coordination
Health IT, specifically EHR systems, can be used to assist health care professionals in improving care coordination. Mary Caffrey, managing editor of evidence-based oncology and diabetes management, and Nicole Beagin, associate editorial director from The American Journal of Managed Care, spoke about how their organizations have developed the ACO and Emerging Healthcare Delivery Coalition. 

Beagin explained to EHR Intelligence that physicians should start focusing on how their EHR systems can help their staff meet the needs and expectations of patients. This is especially true as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has started pushing the industry to switch to value-based care.

She noted that the ACO Coalition is one of AJMC's most effective initiatives and that the organization's ACO members include providers, payers, health IT developers, patient advocates and other health professionals. All of the stakeholders and ACO members present their case studies and best practices at the meetings and events – there are two meetings and four web-based events per year. Afterward, the participants share the information and ideas gathered at the meetings with the industry.

"[Our last meeting] had a lot of information about patient engagement," Caffrey told EHR Intelligence. "[Some key questions formed were] 'How do you really define patient satisfaction' and 'How do you achieve population health measures with hard-to-reach populations?' "

EHR interoperability crucial among community organizations
According to the AJMC, at one of the ACO's recent web-based meetings, Jonathan Hare, CEO of WebShield Inc., emphasized how essential it is to be able to share patient health information among different medical organizations. Caffrey also noted the importance of interoperability for health technologies within community organizations, reaching facilities outside of the health care continuum.

"With hard-to-reach populations, there is a need for the use of technologies to interface with community organizations such as churches or civic organizations," said Caffrey. "Health care organizations are realizing that better population health will occur outside the walls of the clinic and outside the walls of the hospital. If they are taking responsibility for the population, they will need to meet the population where they are. A lot of our discussion has been about how to use technology to engage the community organizations and how to partner with these organizations."

Interoperability and health information exchange for specialty practices is crucial as well, as patients generally have a primary care provider along with additional specialty doctors that need access to their health information and payment models. If they do not, providers will not be able to provide them with the best quality of care, causing treatment recommendations and diagnoses to be less accurate. Hare and his colleagues are currently working on addressing interoperability between specialty providers, discussing the topic at many of the ACO meetings.

However, while health IT should allow providers to share data, patient privacy and security should also remain a vital aspect of these technologies. Health professionals should invest in EHR systems that safely share data between providers.