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2019: The Year Interoperability Ditched Its Training Wheels

Innovation in Health IT Inspiring Us Toward 2020

It’s been a monumental year for Bridge Connector. From announcing our headquarters in Nashville to growing from 35 to 140 employees, taking over 350 client sites live, and sharing several major announcements, 2019 has been one for the books. Most notably, this fall Bridge Connector announced Destinations, our integration platform as a service (iPaaS) that will simplify healthcare integrations with a no-code interface. The platform allows business or non-technical users, at healthcare organizations of any size, to reap the benefits of connected data systems.

Not unlike years past, a whirlwind of innovation in health IT took place. But there are three advances that we’d like to hang our hat on as we look to 2020.

1. If You Build It, They Will Come

Why is interoperability in healthcare so important? For healthcare providers, connectivity between systems is essential for delivering accurate, more efficient treatment plans that place the patient at the center of care. However, only around half of office-based physicians are exchanging digital health information outside of their organization.

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology said that patients, providers, and payers continue to suffer from this lack of interoperability in their 2018 HIT Report to Congress. And they, along with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), immediately announced new initiatives in early 2019 to kickstart increased interoperability.

In one of their most notable innovation in health IT initiatives that set the tone for the year, CMS set a goal for 2020 that 125 million patients would be provided with “free electronic access” to their personal health data, including all medical claims. And the ONC, in a proposed rule, increased the penalties for information blocking to $1 million in fines per incident.

Of the suggestions offered in the 21st Century Cures Act, it still seems open APIs hold the most promise to encourage comprehensive solutions for interoperability in healthcare. And you can see the abundance of riches that has emerged when you look at the new health app economy — over 300,00 healthcare-related apps and counting.

There was a lot of interoperability news this year (and we’re not just saying that because we’re a healthcare company): mergers, acquisitions, and VC funds, oh my! There is an increased sense of urgency to fix disconnected data systems in healthcare, and the marketplace is clamoring to keep up with demand. Most of the investment news centered on the need to provide solutions more quickly, or to expand service offerings to grow market share.

Despite interoperability’s complex history, the training wheels have reluctantly been removed by stakeholders across the continuum of care, who realize they must move more swiftly to connect data sources for competitiveness in the race toward value-based care, or potentially pay for it later.

Baseball movie quotes and bike racing allegories aside, it’s safe to say one of the most difficult to pronounce words in healthcare — interoperability — is going to be talked about a lot more in 2020.

2. Digital health technology, apps broaden access

In a country where 96% of people have a mobile phone, 81% of whom are using smartphones to stay connected to friends, family, and work with a plethora of technologies and services, it’s hard to grapple with how the U.S. still has a healthcare “access” problem.

Seriously. We are just now understanding the impact that social barriers play with our health outcomes — that where we live and how much education we have received can affect our mortality more than our genetics. If you read the same trade publications we do, you have seen at least a dozen articles or white papers on social determinants of health this year. Yet, “socially,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a peer who isn’t utilizing at least two social networking apps on their devices. Most people even have at least one app designed to bring them food or consumer products wherever they are in the world with the click of a button.

The intersection of digital health technology and apps continues to grow at a rapid pace, which is exciting to see. Consumers expect solutions to meet them “where they are” in other industries, so why not in healthcare?

Take Higi, the Smart Health Station network of over 10,000 FDA-cleared stations a Bridge Connector customer, for example, who is improving access to care through innovation in health IT. People can take their blood pressure and weight at a Higi station, learn how at-risk they are for certain diseases, continue to track with any frequency they desire, and can act on recommendations from interactive touch screens. Best of all, they are able to do this on machines that are conveniently located at neighborhood pharmacies like Walgreens, grocers like Publix, employer worksites, and other community points of trust.

More than 56 million people have used a Higi station to-date, and the stations are routinely used nearly one million times per week. Higi’s healthcare stakeholders, such as providers, payers, nonprofits, and corporate health and wellness organizations, realize this solves a huge access problem for at-risk populations and those in underserved areas of the community who may be far away from medical care.

In Higi’s quest to turn this rich data into action — what is sorely missing from many other digital health technologies that collect massive amounts of data — Bridge Connector integrates that data for Higi and their customers, literally “bridging” station activity with consumer-facing, digital tools and resources, so consumers can become more active in managing their own health. Thus, Bridge Connector ultimately sees our role as that of “partner” to digital health companies such as Higi. We deliver their patient data safely and seamlessly to where it needs to go, so partners do not have to shift their resources to become integration companies. By each entity focusing on what they do best, we can achieve progress more quickly.

For the five billion people in the world who own a mobile device — more than the number of people with access to broadband internet in their homes — the explosion of digital health technologies will continue to provide an exciting opportunity for solving healthcare access problems, particularly in underserved regions.

The more digital health technologies and devices that exist, the more these companies understand the value of making big data actionable.

“Creating more actionable data for the consumer is the wave of the future in healthcare,” as Higi CEO Jeff Bennett put it.

3. Innovation in Health IT Addresses Flexibility, Transparency

Our friends at Salesforce like to say, “Our best experience anywhere becomes our expectation everywhere,” to explain the influence that companies like Amazon, Airbnb, and Lyft have from leveraging technology to provide better customer convenience and service. “All ships rise,” as they say. And for better or worse, these companies have also raised the bar for the patient experience in healthcare.

Care is already being delivered more seamlessly and in more flexible environments than ever before, and this will only continue to grow in the coming years with increased telehealth options and the rise in urgent care and minute clinic facilities.

There are several driving forces behind these innovations in health IT  trends, not the least of which are soaring consumer healthcare premiums, and the growth of high-deductible health plans, which now cover four out of 10 Americans. As healthcare seems less affordable, consumers continually call for more pricing transparency, convenience, and choice with care options.

PwC’s Health Research Institute predicted that 2019 would be the year the industry would develop the “Southwest Airlines of healthcare,” referring to the need for more affordable, customer-friendly services, to include value-based lines of services with transparent, pre-disclosed pricing.

Oscar Health is an example of one payer who has continued to disrupt the market in this vein. Launched in 2012, they have steadily made gains to position themselves as “the first health insurance company built to make healthcare easy.” Oscar is run by a CEO who studied artificial intelligence at Stanford, and their award-winning app dubbed them the “hipster health insurer” early-on.

The brand prides itself on “technology, transparency, and hi-touch,” and their options to deliver on the requested affordability and convenience seem to be working — their members use telehealth five times more than the average for the healthcare industry.

PwC survey data backs up the demand for more choices with 78% of people saying they would opt to receive less expensive hospital care at home. Similarly, 54% would also try an FDA-cleared digital tool or app to treat a medical condition.

Though interoperability was explored with the greatest detail in the first section of the blog, we see the need for it as a common thread that will allow all three of these health IT advances to become more pervasive realities.

The people have spoken. The data is in. And the technology to make it all work together is out there.

We look forward to a bright year ahead, working with companies from across the continuum of care — from providers, to payers, to digital health vendors and beyond — to make interoperability a reality for their organizations.

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