Great Strides Have Been Made Implementing HIT, But We Still Have Work to Do

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By Jeffrey Rose, M.D.

Every day, physicians’ offices, hospitals, clinics, laboratories, pharmacies, health plans, and home care providers generate information about patients and the care they receive. Patients are also generating and transmitting their own health data through wearable devices, smartphones, mobile apps, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Other non-traditional sources of socially important health data are becoming influential in promoting wellness, managing chronic disease, assessing and predicting health risk and promoting patient and consumer engagement. While electronic health records (EHRs) capture much of this vital information, large quantities of data still sit idle in siloed databases – an unfortunate missed opportunity, when it could be used to inform treatment decisions (clinical and operational decision support), improve hospital and health plan operations, and help payers and providers collaborate with patients around their health.

To leverage the power of EHRs and these other data sources to improve care we must advance interoperability. This means connecting health information technology systems used across the continuum of care, and accelerating information sharing to reach better outcomes. And it means creating a flow of this information at a level of granular semantic meaning that allows users to read and digest the information without increased cognitive burden, and promotes the use of advanced machine learning and AI capabilities that are fundamentally dependent on good comparable data to work. 

Fortunately, there has been quite a lot of progress on this front. Thanks to the efforts of key players in both the public and private sectors, healthcare data is becoming more interoperable. But challenges –including differing terminology used to track patient information, conflicting state laws regulating patient information-sharing, and assumptions made about the seamless flow of information across systems – still remain. Providers still don’t have the full picture of a patient’s health, which can negatively impact the quality of care they receive, and payers remain unaware of clinically significant data that exist outside of their claims systems. It is critical to understand that protection of consumer and patient data, and the transparent uses of that data is absolutely essential as the flow of information is enhanced.

Hearst Health, along with our partners at the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) and the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), recently released a report that shows how various private sector health industry CEO stakeholders have come together to advance healthcare data interoperability. It also shines a light on some of the work that still needs to be done, including the development of best practices for measuring and reporting interoperability.

Our report is the result of a major group effort, and includes insights from nearly 100 individuals representing every sector of health care, including clinicians, hospitals and health systems, long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) providers, health plans, life sciences organizations, EHR and other technology developers, data analytics companies, and patients. 

Some of the key findings and recommendations from the report include:

  • Leveraging the power of health information can improve the quality of care delivery and make it more seamless – but it requires private-sector leadership, in partnership with government, to bring the industry together to take action that benefits patients.
  • Technical interoperability benefits from information sharing across the healthcare landscape and especially among acute to post-acute and home health providers as it drives well-informed, coordinated and patient-centered care. Organizations should agree on common technology architecture and terminology to enable interoperability between EHRs, and other HIT platforms. 
  • Important government initiatives, including the implementation of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, have moved our healthcare system closer to data interoperability. Leaders in the private sector have stepped up to the plate to facilitate data exchange.
  • Two key goals are highlighted to advance interoperability. The first is increasing interoperability at the point of care delivery, including hospitals, physician practices, pharmacies, laboratories, radiology, and long-term and post-acute care. The second is increasing patients’ access to their medical and health data. 
  • The HLC and BPC have developed a Vision for an Interoperable Healthcare System, identified priority areas and policy considerations, and are facilitating the next steps for health information interoperability. They are testing new models to advance interoperability including developing contracting language that would set baseline expectations and requirements for interoperability health information system. The two organizations are also developing a report card to track the advances the private sector is making and measure interoperability progress.

The private and public sectors both have important roles to play when it comes to sharing valuable medical information. We need to stay aligned so we can accomplish the goal of turning an abundance of data into better health outcomes for patients.

Jeffrey Rose, MD is the senior vice president of clinical strategy for Hearst Health, leading care guidance initiatives that reach across the organization’s network of companies.Rose is a nationally recognized informaticist and fellowship-trained physician with proven expertise in the development, implementation and use of health information technology across the industry and in clinical practice. 

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