Six out of ten hospitals routinely used Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) in 2012, according to a recent study by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information. That is a 41% increase from 2008.
As healthcare continues to move toward a patient-centric, accountable care model with reimbursements based on patient outcomes, sharing information with other health providers is becoming more critical. Discrete clinical information in the patient’s chart from outside organizations could help to lower the incidence of unnecessary and duplicate procedures and therapies leading to increased efficiency, cost savings, and patient safety. Despite a long industry dialog on this necessity, common and flexible interoperability standards to transfer information still prove elusive.
Hospitals, provider groups, and ultimately patients are bearing the burden of ineffective exchanges and limited interoperability standards. HIMSS recently conducted a survey of healthcare IT executives and while 73% of the involved organizations performed electronic transfers of patient information with outside health systems, 44% of respondents are challenged with sharing data by lack of staffing and 40% are constrained by budget limitations. Despite the electronic nature of the transactions, many organizations still need to use human resources to rectify differences between systems. Hiring supplementary staff is not the only drawback that healthcare systems and provider practices are experiencing as a result of the lack of interoperability; many organizations have the potential to miss incentives from Meaningful Use.
The push for interoperability needs to be led in a clear and consistent manner by provider organizations rather than the software vendors and nonprofit organizations that are currently pioneering the effort. Organizations like CommonWell Health Alliance, Healtheway, Health IT Now, the CURE Project, and the imPatient Movement have sprung up in the past few years championing interoperability, with many of the major players being backed by different software vendors that reflect the fragmented nature of the industry. If the ultimate goal is truly communication between these parties, why aren't they all working together? And how do we get the providers more involved to expedite progress?
To enact change, the industry needs a coordinated push led by payers and providers that works closely with the regulatory agencies to establish standards for interoperability. Additionally, when choosing EHRs for their organizations, providers should place increased emphasis on interoperability as selection criteria. If these standards become the core of provider procurement decisions, the effect on the healthcare software community will be swift. It would only take a few larger hospital systems and provider organizations in the country to adopt this mentality to begin a tidal wave effect as no player would want to be left out. Vendors would be pressured to adapt and comply with standards as they couldn't risk being passed over for competitors; decreased use of a standalone software would result in an eventual phasing out and sunset of the system. The landscape would be completely altered and driven by those who actually use the software.
It’s time for the target audience of HIEs to get a voice.
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