3 Barriers to Interoperability, and 3 Reasons it Matters
Eliminating challenges with interoperability is a top priority in healthcare — what’s standing in the way?
Challenges with interoperability that exist today are shaped by the evolution of patient data technology — starting with the first EHR (which was developed back in 1972 … 46 years ago, if you can believe that). The first EHR was a revolutionary step toward changing how we work with patient information. At the same time, it was very rudimentary, and it would take until well into the 1980s for health systems to begin to understand the value these systems could provide and begin widespread adoption of the technology. This infographic from Net Health is a great overview of what that journey has been like.
Forty-six years later, there’s no disputing the fact that we have made tremendous leaps and bounds with healthcare technology. And we are still improving every day, from clinical innovations to new technological ones. But through all of these advancements, one persistent problem remains: interoperability between systems. Advanced clinical systems provide a wealth of on-demand knowledge for providers, but this knowledge is too-often kept siloed and separated. According to Black Book, 70% of hospitals are not using data outside of their own EHR. So, why has this issue continued to challenge us? With all of these advancements, haven’t we created a way for a patients’ information to follow them? Don’t we have the tools to improve that? You may be surprised to see that, yes, we absolutely do have the technology to make it a reality, but there are some challenges that have made adoption slow.
Why do challenges with interoperability still exist?
1. Standardization of Information
In the early days of meaningful use, it was the wild west in the healthcare space with EHRs, which set the stage for modern-day challenges with interoperability. There were minimum standards, but no standardization. Systems had a different way of identifying patients, storing data, building care plans, and everything in between. Now, companies are often using multiple systems for different information they’re gathering or tracking, and trying to connect the dots on every system can seem overwhelming.
2. Resistance from EHRs
While having a large number of disparate systems can seem overwhelming, it’s not always the main point of resistance when it comes to integration. Even if the integration has no technical barriers, there is often a political one. Some EHR vendors are often cold to the idea of interfacing with external systems, for fear that they may become less valuable to the organization. EHRs, don’t fear. We all know that you’re over 40 and you’re still fabulous. EHRs will continue to be the system of record for clinical data and workflows, you’re not going anywhere.
3. Cost of Traditional Integration
The third reason the gap in interoperability still exists is similar to the reason it took EHRs such a long time to get adopted: price. Traditional integration models are accessible to only the largest healthcare organizations. But with new pricing models and integration strategies, integration is easier and more affordable than ever.
Now that we have a better idea of why the gap in interoperability still exists, let’s discuss why we so badly need to solve this problem. It all comes back to patient care. While every healthcare facility and provider have varying goals, the vision always leads to the patient experience and outcome. It may be obvious why interoperability affects patient care, but we provided our top three here for you.
John Hopkins researchers found that over a quarter of a million deaths per year are due to medical error.
That makes medical error the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Why should we care?
About 5% of patients account for about 50% of healthcare spending in the US. Do you think those patients are spending all of their time at one facility? Not likely. They’re often dealing with multiple chronic illnesses, and are engaged with many providers, across different specialties, and in many different facilities or even at their own home.
That’s where the challenges with interoperability come into play. Without the ability to successfully transfer patient data between facilities, patients and providers struggle to stay on top of important medical information. Often, it falls on the patient to get the information transferred and up to date. As if they don’t have enough to worry about. Imagine how much better the patient experience would be if we were able to completely remove that burden from their shoulders.
Efficiency is also largely affected by the lack of interoperability. Health systems and other providers are paying people to enter data into their disparate systems all day. It’s a huge, unnecessary, expensive admin burden. Not to mention the errors that are bound to happen from manual transfers of information all day. Who wouldn’t make a mistake now and then after doing that for a long period of time? Through integration, organizations won’t only save money, but can delegate their manpower elsewhere and significantly decrease information errors.
3. Achieving Better Outcomes
Lastly is the benefit that point-of-care data brings to the healthcare industry. John Hopkins researchers found that over a quarter of a million deaths per year are due to medical error. Yes, you read that right. That makes medical error the third leading cause of death in the United States. If all physicians and care providers had the advantage of complete point-of-care data to better assess their patients and make more educated decisions for them, we could see a huge reduction in this number.
It’s no secret that the lack of interoperability is a huge problem in the healthcare industry. But the good news is, we already have a solution. The main challenge is the adoption of this solution. You know what they say: the first step is acceptance. Let’s accept that this is a major problem, and start making the right moves to solve it for ourselves and for our patients.