2017 Trends: Interoperability

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby… But We’re Not There Yet

By Katherine Brick

Recently, the immediate past National Coordinator for Health IT, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., and the newly appointed National Coordinator for Health IT, Vindell Washington, M.D., co-authored a Health Affairs Blog to make several points about the successes to date of digital healthcare – including interoperability.

Ignoring the fact that healthcare appears to be the only industry that didn’t conquer interoperability a decade ago, a few impressive changes have taken place in the last couple of years. For example, Drs. DeSalvo and Washington note that in 2015, more than eight in 10 hospitals electronically exchanged lab results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries, or medication lists with providers outside their organization (double the percentage from 2008).

Cause for celebration? Not quite. In fact, it’s a shame that we can even collectively call that success. So, what does interoperability mean in 2017 and beyond – and how can your organization be part of the story? Here are three things to know, and how they can help healthcare organizations to stay relevant in the era of data exchange.

Three Things to Know

1. FHIR is Taking Hold

Health Level Seven International (HL7)’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) application programming interface (API) aims to redefine the standard for exchanging healthcare information and help EHRs and other apps interoperate between providers.

A KLAS survey recently found that providers rank FHIR number one in terms of standards, organizations, associations, or collaborations that will provide the highest future value to national interoperability.

FHIR is free to use and licensed without royalty, which has helped it to gain critical mass in the market. Products and services can embed FHIR in their offerings without any cost, which has helped foster an environment where the standards actually work – and many EHR companies and healthcare organizations are playing along.

2. Competitive Providers Will Need to Trust in Each Other

As FHIR takes hold, interoperability is moving closer to a universally accepted core set of standards to facilitate data exchange in healthcare. But as a paper by a group of HIT experts for the National Academy of Medicine recently noted, “data standards are necessary but not sufficient for interoperability.”

In addition to a common data standard, true health data exchange requires secure infrastructures, share-friendly policies, aligned incentives – and trust between healthcare stakeholders. It’s that last one – trust – that’s not exactly a common trait in the healthcare world. Each healthcare system will need to trust in the security infrastructure of the others in order to feel comfortable sharing the healthcare information of its patients.

Without trust in security and privacy measures across healthcare organizations, stakeholders will be unwilling and unlikely to make data accessible when and where it is needed.

3. The Patient Will Be Your New Data Partner

Great! Healthcare data standards – check. Trust between providers – check. We’re almost there, we’ve almost achieved data interoperability, and…. Wait, who moved my cheese?

As soon as an environment that fosters sharing and exchanging patient data truly takes hold, the data pie will get larger. After all, what is the value of health data access across providers? Of course, it all comes down to helping the patient.

Traditionally, healthcare interoperability has been focused on sharing data between providers to reduce duplication of services and provide up to date health information about each patient. But new payment structures will put accountability on the patient and their health outcomes in order to maximize physician reimbursement. As patients are picking up personal health devices, such as FitBits and Apple Watches, patients/consumers and the data they carry will need to be included in the care information exchanged, too. In 2017, expect these personal health devices to start connecting up.

What It Means for You

For healthcare organizations such as hospitals and health systems, as well as health IT solutions partners looking to advance interoperability for their customers, the activity and growth of interoperability finally “becoming real” will spark a new conversation around healthcare data exchange. Beyond the technical aspects, healthcare organizations will finally have a chance to tout their data exchange successes – what it looks like when systems trust each other, have the right data standards in place, and have the technology to make healthcare work as it should – all for the benefit of the patient. Here are three tips to keep in mind:

  1. Go beyond tech. Even if your business is health IT, take your story beyond device development and describe the future you’re working to create.
  2. Consider all your audiences. As healthcare organizations start to tell their success stories, think about all the audiences that need to hear it – including future data or business partners.
  3. Be consumer-centric. Implementing value-based care models means physician reimbursement will rely on patient compliance and positive outcomes. In the age of population health, the impact on the patient should always be the crux of your story.

And here’s a bonus tip: Always be looking to the future or find a partner who will do so on your behalf. At ReviveHealth, we stay focused not only on where healthcare is today, but where it will be tomorrow, and the day after, and the year after…. bringing our clients regular industry insights so they can stay future-proofed and ahead of industry trends.

Looking for more resources?

The ONC also recently released a “Health IT Playbook” and EHR contracting guide for providers to help them negotiate with solutions partners.

  • Katherine Brick - Headshot

    Katherine Brick

    Katherine utilizes her background in health policy and science communication to provide strategic counsel and day-to-day oversight for her clients, while distilling complex topics into engaging stories that reach diverse audiences. Before joining ReviveHealth, Katherine was a vice president with an integrated agency in Washington, D.C., where she helped manage communications for nonprofit healthcare foundations.

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