The Impact of Electronic Health Records and Interoperability

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Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has undergone tremendous digital transformation spurred by federal efforts to eliminate paper-based clinical practices and reap the benefits of data analytics to support innovations in care delivery and payment reform. Providers moved quickly to complete Electronic Health Record (EHR) implementation and adopt a technology that is key to capturing clinical data with an eye on using the health IT standards within EHR systems to drive interoperability.

As technology continues to evolve, healthcare organizations gain access to improved tools and better information. Electronic Health Record technology, although the most crucial to the digital transformation, is only one piece of the puzzle for resolving a system-wide lack of interoperability. 

Modern-day patients expect their health data to be readily available as they move from one provider to the next, and some of the nation’s largest tech companies indicate that they’re working toward a solution that would make this possible: healthcare interoperability. When surveyed, several health systems agree that data sharing is poised to have the greatest impact on patient experience.

Optimal care coordination relies on good communication, but research indicates that there are significant roadblocks in interoperability. Many health systems aren’t using information from outside their own EHRs, and when they do retrieve data from outside systems, they aren’t confident they can trust it, or they don’t get the data they need. In addition, they report that they lack the financial and technical expertise to adopt complex interoperability, which is required to receive higher reimbursements that are built into value-based care initiatives by both public and private payers. 

Interoperability is not necessarily easy to implement. A recent report from the Center for Connected Medicine shows that fewer than 4 in 10 health systems are successfully sharing their data with other systems. For many organizations, a mix of cloud APIs and interfaces pose the main challenge to achieving true interoperability.

While widespread interoperability in healthcare may remain a sizable challenge, the concept promises major benefits. 

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Reduced Medical Errors

Interoperability offers organizations ways of preventing medical error deaths by making it possible to share data across systems and applications. This allows care providers to have a better understanding of how and why these errors occur and empowers them to take action.

Still, simply standardizing data within a single healthcare system is not enough. To fully enable physicians to reduce errors, interoperability must happen externally across healthcare organizations—not just departments in a single organization. 

Increased Efficiency

Presenting data to care providers in real-time and in a consistent manner can boost efficiency across an entire organization. Real-time data and other healthcare analytics advancements would enable providers to quickly identify the root of a patient’s problem and empower them to make more informed and faster decisions.

For example, an emergency room patient might need blood tests performed, costing the healthcare system time and money. With interoperable data across organizations, a care provider might access the patient’s health record and find they already had blood tests conducted earlier in the week. In some cases, that data would be usable, helping the patient receive more rapid care.

Seamless exchange of health data will not only cut down on the repetitive tasks physicians often perform but also on the administrative ones, such as patient data entry, greatly impacting the quality of care being delivered and leading to more cost savings and efficient workflows.

Enhanced Patient Security and Experience

Healthcare organizations that enter data, such as protected health information, into systems lacking intercommunication may find it difficult to track the various locations where it exists—a significant setback when seconds count. Jotting down information on paper with the intention of logging it in later creates confusion about where the data actually lives. Not only does this make for process headaches, it also makes organizations more susceptible to a breach.

The interoperability of EHRs, however, offers clinicians the ease of mind that the personal healthcare information (PHI) they input is secured. When PHI is entered into an interoperable system, administrators of the system can pinpoint users, track their actions as they input data and effectively manage their access rights, securing patient data and protecting their privacy in the process.

It also has the potential to reduce or eliminate patient-facing tasks, such as filling out multiple forms or re-explaining their medical history. This could spur faster and more accurate treatment as a result.

Facilitating interoperability between internal systems and external facilities, as well as revamping existing, outdated processes requires time and money. Financing to accomplish interoperability for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)—healthcare providers that deliver primary care and other services in low-income rural and urban areas—is available through PCDC.

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