A Path Forward to Interoperability

There has been a lot of talk in the news about interoperability, and for good reason. It’s essential for effective patient care and to improve the efficiency and affordability of our healthcare system. We need to have an efficient, effective and safe way of sharing electronic health data across products and organizations in a way that can be meaningfully used by all stakeholders. Interoperability is so important that it is a major part of The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and is included in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The move towards interconnectedness is a key component in the healthcare industry transformation to deliver care and services in a patient-centered way. One of the great aspects of health IT is that it can help healthcare providers recommend more tailored treatments designed for an individual’s specific disease and preferences and help patients make better treatment decisions for themselves. This is such a significant issue that President Obama recently presented the Precision Medicine Initiative that strives to increase the use of personalized information in healthcare.

Interoperability has been difficult to achieve as it requires a major change in how information is shared among patients, healthcare providers and organizations. Barriers to implementation have included non-standardization of electronic health information, differing regulations and organizational policies and not having a dependable method to scale up across multiple networks based on individual preferences.

On January 30th, 2015, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) released for public comment its draft roadmap for countrywide interoperability. The roadmap lays out specific steps needed to achieve an open healthcare network in the next 10 years. The ONC states that it will require work in three areas:

1.) Standards;
2.) Motivating the use of those standards through incentives; and
3.) Creating a trusted atmosphere for collecting, sharing and using electronic health information

While the roadmap’s long-term goal is to have a fully interoperable system in 10 years, it provides a three-year plan to enable a majority of patients and healthcare providers to send, receive, find and use a typical set of electronic health information nationally.

So far the roadmap has been well-received and even praised by many industry leaders. In a recent FierceHealthIT article, Russell P. Branzell, CEO of the College of Health Information Management Executives, said: “This is a much-needed playbook for each and every health IT professional.” Others are supportive but express skepticism about the roadmap going beyond three years due to several unknowns.

National coordinator Karen DeSalvo noted in the FierceHealthIT article a recent conversation about payment models, especially The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s recent announcement that it will change how it pays providers for treating Medicare patients in the future: “We have heard from private payers and we are certainly interested in talking through how our payment models can support and advance HIT and interoperability. These are related and completely tied efforts to have that better payment model and require better data to be unlocked so it can be put to use to assess value, and at the same time the payment models need to reinforce that there must be data standards that we all agree to.”

While it will take time to reach complete interconnectedness, the ONC’s roadmap is much needed guidance to get everyone in the healthcare industry on the same page. It is exciting to think about the vision of a fully connected healthcare system where data is meaningfully used to improve the health of every patient and it’s encouraging to know there’s a path forward. As a health IT vendor, Navigating Cancer is committed to interoperability for our customers and to working with other IT vendors to provide the seamless flow of information for effective and efficient patient care.

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