Accomplishments, Challenges and Opportunities in Healthcare Interoperability

December 8, 2016 Meghan Stuart

How many times have you had to fill out a medical history form at the doctor’s office? Filling out the same forms and answering the same questions over and over again in each health facility you visit is not an uncommon occurrence for patients. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and it might not be for much longer thanks to the concept of interoperability.

Interoperability provides the capability for separate health IT systems to “talk” to each other, exchange data and make information useful both within and across health system boundaries. By bridging the gaps between data systems, interoperability paves a path for effective healthcare delivery across the care continuum.

While interoperability remains a challenge, health systems have reported success in collecting and analyzing data. In our most recent semiannual Economic Outlook survey, C-suite healthcare executives reported success in:

  • Enhancing user comfort with their electronic health records (EHRs) (90 percent);
  • Using advanced analytics and data mining techniques (74 percent); and
  • Accessing ambulatory data from their employed physician network (80 percent).

Operational efficiency is improving as IT utilization becomes standard across the industry. With the implementation of EHRs and other health IT systems, better data collection, integration, and analysis have followed suit. For the most part, the struggle to gather and synthesize data within hospital walls no longer appears to be a significant challenge.

However, the capability to exchange and integrate this data across boundaries continues to be an area of struggle for health systems. In the Economic Outlook survey, nearly 60 percent of C-suite leaders report that they are not able to access ambulatory data from their affiliated, non-employed physician network. In addition, a Premier and eHealth Initiative survey found that integrating data from out-of-network providers was the top health IT challenge for accountable care organizations. While EHRs have become the “new normal” among physicians, interoperability challenges are preventing cross-network data connectivity and in turn, preventing the highest quality, coordinated care across the continuum.

So, how can you drive interoperability in your health system to effectively coordinate care?

IT investments

Make smart capital investments in modern IT solutions. A lot of EHR vendors initially developed software to meet CMS’s Meaningful Use certification requirements but did not take steps toward interoperability. EHR vendors themselves have recently started to take steps in assisting with interoperability across their different systems. Since 70 percent of C-suite leaders cite their largest capital investments will be in IT over the next year, much of this investment will likely be made to further interoperability capabilities across the continuum of care.

A flexible, efficient ERP system

One of the biggest hurdles for health systems is finding the technology that will allow health IT systems to talk to one another, including EHRs. A high-quality, cost-effective ERP system can serve as a network to connect this data in order to create more effective care coordination. However, before you decide to choose or implement an ERP system, there are several important data considerations to take into account.

Federal legislation

The House and Senate just voted for passage of the 21st Century Cures Act and now it’s on President Obama’s desk for signature. As part of the EHR certification process, the bill’s provisions will require health IT vendors to attest to their system’s ability to interoperate with other technologies. Vendors must meet certain requirements to be considered interoperable, effectively decreasing the amount of EHR vendors that foster data silos to support bridging these gaps.

Data sharing challenges continue to pervade the healthcare industry. With recent improvements in data integration analytics and management services, and new policies in place, interoperability may not be as difficult to achieve. For higher-quality, coordinated care, all players –health systems, physicians, providers, health IT vendors and even payers– must work toward breaking down silos and integrating data across the healthcare continuum.

To learn more about current healthcare industry trends and how they are affecting health systems, CLICK HERE to request a copy of our fall 2016 Economic Outlook.

Author information

Meghan Stuart

I’m a healthcare strategist and thought leader from Charlotte, NC, who researches and writes about current healthcare industry trends affecting the healthcare supply chain. When I’m not working, you’ll find me at any coffee shop drawing in my sketchbook or at the dog park playing fetch with my Boxer.


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