HHS has announced new interoperability standards that should help to improve data sharing in the healthcare industry.

HHS announces new interoperability measures

Health and Human Services reported that the healthcare industry has pledged to make electronic health records easier to integrate through new interoperability standards. This will benefit patients as well as providers.

Interoperability is a major consideration for making sure new health IT systems are as efficient as possible. HHS stated that now the country's largest hospitals, healthcare networks and IT developers have pledged to improve data sharing and the flow of information. This has major implications for small practices as well as the biggest care centers, and should make the patient experience easier and more personal. According to Sylvia M. Burwell, Secretary of HHS, 90 percent of EHRs currently in use will be affected by this initiative. 

Important measures
This new cooperative approach, which was announced at the 2016 HIMSS conference, will focus on three areas where industry leaders and stakeholders can make improvements for interoperability standards. Medpage Today reported that these measures will go a long way toward making EHR use even more successful and will hopefully close any gaps in coverage.

The first area of focus will be on patient access. Presently, patients may not understand how to use personal health records at home or remotely. EHRs are critical tools for monitoring daily health, especially for individuals living with a chronic condition or specific treatment plan. By improving awareness, there is hope that patients will better leverage health history information and other resources to make informed decisions as well as track changes or concerns.

By improving security measures and interoperability standards, patients should face minimal barriers in accessing personal health records on a computer or smartphone. In this way, test results can be accessed on the go, while new channels of communication make it easier to schedule appointments or notify physicians of important changes.

HHS stated the second pillar of this initiative involves open access to information. Providers should not block or knowingly interfere with the sharing of health data. By opening up information, patients can access personal health records while on vacation or seeking a second opinion. This is also an important measure for improving collaborative care and research opportunities.

The third measure that HHS reported is an emphasis on new standards. By adhering to federal guidelines and other policy or best practice information, providers can ensure data is shared efficiently without sacrificing security or privacy. Honing in on standardization efforts will minimize proprietary barriers and make data interoperable across different platforms or software. In this way, EHRs can be shared and accessed across the industry.

Moving forward
Currently, EHRs may not be fully interoperable between providers. Similarly, the possibility of technological concerns may inhibit healthcare administrators from fully utilizing EHRs and other digital software. By improving interoperability standards, the industry at large will benefit and move toward full integration. Burwell stated that these measures will have a lasting impact on healthcare. 

"These commitments are a major step forward in our efforts to support a healthcare system that is better, smarter, and results in healthier people,"  Burwell said. "Technology isn't just one leg of our strategy to build a better healthcare system for our nation, it supports the entire effort. We are working to unlock healthcare data and information so that providers are better informed and patients and families can access their healthcare information, making them empowered, active participants in their own care."

Patients will have new freedom when selecting a provider or switching between general care to specialties as a result of these efforts to make data accessible on as many healthcare platforms as possible. On the clinical side, physicians and other medical professionals will have better access to important health history information and be able to work together more smoothly.