EHR use presents many healthcare benefits, including coordination of care and increased patient engagement. However, , the lack of EHR and health IT interoperability is posing a serious threat to other healthcare initiatives, according to a recent report published by the American Hospital Association.
The report, entitled Why Interoperability Matters, discusses the various aspects of the healthcare industry and care delivery that are negatively impacted by a lack of interoperability. Among those aspects include care coordination, patient engagement, and public health and quality measures reporting.
The exchange of health information is critical for the coordination of care, according to AHA. When patients receive care from multiple different providers, physicians should be able to securely send relevant patient information to the practicing physician. However, that tends not to be the case because EHR systems are not interoperable and cannot exchange information.
Furthermore, care coordination and successful interoperability are vital for provider finances. As accountable care organizations and bundled payments continue to grow more prevalent, the AHA maintains that interoperability and the ability to see all of the care a patient in receiving is crucial in preventing unnecessary treatment.
Patient engagement and the shared decision-making between providers and patients is critical in achieving the aims of the healthcare industry, the authors of AHA report maintain. Further, patient engagement is a central part of federal regulations on using an EHR. However, the agency states that many patients are unable to access their electronic health information, hindering the practice of patient engagement.
“The real problem is that the vast majority of patients cannot access their health information in a holistic, meaningful way. Instead, they must go to each of their providers’ patient portals and download unintegrated data. Making sense of this, particularly for patients with multiple chronic conditions who frequently have many health encounters a year, is difficult,” the report states.
Public Health and Quality Measures Reporting
EHR use also provides the opportunity for enhanced public health reporting. Because patient data is aggregated on one, electronic system, healthcare professionals can track healthcare trends and analyze information about population health. But without adequately interoperable systems, that process is significantly hampered.
“Hospitals are happy to report this data to improve public health but must contend with a wide variety of reporting formats and transmission technologies to do so, including faxing, mailing, e-mailing, web forms and secure file transfer protocols,” report reads.
This cumbersome process results in wasted time and resources. Similarly, practices face issues with quality measure reporting. Quality measures reporting is another federally mandated practice for EHR use, however without properly interoperable systems, health systems face challenges.
Interfaces and HIEs as solutions
Healthcare providers have created a few solutions to this interoperability problem, including interfaces and health information exchanges.
Interfaces are programs that allow a facility’s EHR to pass along information from one system to another, yet practices face challenges when using interfaces for more than one provider.
“...in health care, each interface currently is like a snowflake: it must be built to meet the unique requirements between two providers and cannot be reused,” the authors explain.
Because practices would need to adopt multiple interfaces, they are not always a financially stable solution to interoperability.
Like interfaces, health information exchanges (HIEs) have presented themselves as potential solutions to interoperability problems. Although HIEs can be successful in securely transmitting health information between providers, they too are quite costly. Furthermore, AHA explains that many HIEs are installed via federal grants, and that when the grants run out, many practices are unable to maintain their HIEs.
Health IT standards need more specificity
Although there are a set of standards identified for the use of EHRs and other health IT, they are not specific enough to be effective, the authors note. Creating uniformity in how data is collected and stored on an EHR, however, would be a drastic step forward for interoperability, the report states. Increased health IT standards would cause data to be input in the same way across the healthcare delivery spectrum, making information sharing more feasible.
Although the authors acknowledges the potential that health IT standards have in increasing interoperability, the agency maintains that much work in defining those standards and developing other platforms needs to be done before the industry can achieve nationwide interoperability.