Enhancing the interoperability of electronic health record systems is a priority for both health providers and the federal government. Government officials know that effective communication and connectivity between EHR systems and medical devices throughout various health care settings is crucial to ensuring that the financial investments they put into increasing EHR adoption and adherence to meaningful use requirements are paying off.
5 use cases to improve data exchange
As the industry continues to work toward interoperability improvements, officials at the Senate Committee Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing in June discussed the importance of making sure that providers and patients have the ability to efficiently and safely transfer health data.
"One of the important value propositions for providers in the digital age is the free flow of information," Boyd Vindell, M.D., chief medical information officer for the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, stated in his testimony. "Having key clinical data from all points of care has been a challenge for decades and the speed of future clinical improvements will depend on our ability to aggregate data from disparate clinical systems."
Scientists are also getting involved with industry efforts to improve health information exchange. Researchers Dean F. Sittig, Ph.D., from the University of Texas, and Adam Wright, Ph.D., from Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital, recently established five use cases that clearly define the definition of EHR data interoperability.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, the five cases included software designers and developers who need to be able to address EHR user interface obstacles and develop advanced products, clinicians for provision of more secure care and patients who would benefit from receiving essential medical information no matter where they were treated. The cases also involved researchers who are able to help enhance workflow processes and knowledge of medical conditions, and administrators who will no longer be reliant on a single EHR vendor.
Industry needs clear definition of interoperability
The federal government has spent around $26 billion on making sure that EHR adoption improves patient care outcomes. However, if the health care industry fails to achieve data interoperability, this investment may not end up paying off.
The sector is also working on preventing information blocking, which has proven to be another major issue within the industry. The effort to inhibit the blocking of health information exchange is a task that has been taken on by both providers and EHR vendors. The researchers explained that while many people are working toward improvements of data interoperability, very few have a clear and specific definition of interoperability.
"Many commentators assume that an open EHR shares some of the qualities of 'open-source' software, which usually implies that the application's source code is available, often free of charge, for review, use, and even modification," the researchers stated in the published report. "While we support the open-source concept, it has no bearing on whether an EHR satisfies the definition we propose below. On the other hand, we strongly believe that EHR developers should provide customers with access to an 'escrowed' copy of their current source code to help mitigate health care business continuity problems in the event the developer goes out of business."
If more physicians begin to focus on the five cases, the industry will begin to move further in the direction of effective EHR data interoperability and health information exchange. However, before this happens, health IT developers will need to commit to creating EHRs that are capable of effectively transferring health information among providers and organizations within the sector. Health professionals can do their part by investing in high-quality EHR systems featuring tools like mobile apps that better enable them to share data with providers in other medical settings.