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Interoperability: What’s on the Horizon

What is interoperability? In an ideal setting, providers would be able to exchange health care data between systems and locations continuously. Some systems do talk and interact with each other very well…until the inevitable need for an upgrade strikes, and then snags arise. Since software needs updates to ensure that patient data stays safe and service providers stay up to date on the latest technology, what can be expected as vendors work to make the user experience better for patients and their healthcare team?

While the National Quality Forum is working to finalize standards to measure interoperability and facilitate the sharing of information, the different applications used by physicians’ offices, hospitals, labs, and even patients to access their health information present some unique challenges. However, NQF notes that “All critical data elements should be included in the analysis of measures as interoperability increases access to information,” and the forum is working to “advance standards that enable the sharing of information regardless of the type of system, organization, or geography.”

Craig Richardville, Chief Information and Analytics Officer for Carolinas Healthcare, believes that healthcare IT infrastructure is maturing quickly enough that the biggest challenges of interoperability will be resolved in five to six years. While other industry players may be more cautiously optimistic, they do agree that interoperability is an issue that will be a focus for developers and health providers going forward, and with this increased importance, great strides will be made.

Andrew von Eschenbach, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, observed recently that all the important players in healthcare – doctors, nurses, patients, and many more – must work as a team to rise to the challenges and create products that work better for everyone: “We have to come together and work together in a more collaborative and interoperable way.” Karen DeSalvo, former national coordinator for health IT, agreed, noting that “we are a team, and part of that team is the consumer.”

With more consumers using apps and new methods of sharing and accessing their health data, patients will be empowered take on a more active role in reviewing and updating their personal information to ensure its accuracy and improve their own health outcomes. With many patients tired of carrying physical records to appointments, and those in the younger generation accustomed to having information at their fingertips, the incentive increases for patients to take responsibility for making sure their electronic health data is accurate and up to date.

What role does the healthcare provider take when trying to ease the issues of interoperability?

Health2047’s CEO, Dr. Doug Given, commented in a 2016 interview that “physicians should play a critical role in designing the user stories and new solutions of the future.” Providers can take part in future development by giving input for design, testing systems as users and adopting the new technologies moving forward. While this requires some extra effort at the onset, the goal for everyone – doctor, patient, and IT developers – is to increase efficiency and enhance the quality of care. In time, improvements guided by users should lead to a more seamless exchange of data and a smoother healthcare experience for all involved.