Moving the Patient Care Journey Forward with Interoperability

Updated on December 28, 2023

Even as the healthcare industry undergoes a significant digital transformation, it can still be common for patient information to be incomplete at the point of care. Ensuring interoperability, defined as “the ability of a system to exchange electronic health information with and use electronic health information from other systems without special effort on the part of the user,” is a critical aspect of delivering quality patient care throughout the healthcare journey. When clinical systems are fragmented, healthcare providers are unable to access complete and current patient data, which can result in care delays, redundant procedures, and potentially harmful mistakes. 

For the betterment of the patient’s outcome and experience, their specific circumstances and patient history need to be uniquely considered from the start. Medical specialists must connect all the pieces—and data points—of the individual’s comprehensive health and history instead of solely evaluating patients through the lens of their specific expertise. 

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 was an initial attempt aimed at tearing down medical siloes and implementing the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) for more comprehensive care. However, no requirement was developed at that time to standardize EHRs, which greatly reduced the chance that the data could actually be shared. A couple of years later, the creation of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) EHR Incentive Programs marked the next significant milestone, leading to the transition of hospitals storing healthcare data in electronic formats. Even so, seamlessly accessing this data through interoperable external applications remains a challenge. The HL7® Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR®), developed in 2012 as a standard to define the ability to exchange healthcare information between systems, began in response to the need for easier and quicker methods to access a growing amount of health data. FHIR® allows both clinical and administrative data to be available to those who need it in order to provide higher-quality patient care. Sadly, the implementation of the FHIR standard varies across the EHR providers.

Providers must recognize that this information plays a significant role in the direction of a patient’s journey and unleashing the insights can empower both clinicians and patients. The biggest challenge is making the data actionable and ensuring the right information is being delivered to the right person at the right time. The adoption of different interoperable digital technologies, such as an interactive patient care system (IPS), can help patients connect better with their care team, collaborate with them throughout their care, and streamline healthcare processes for all. 

Technology Develops Interconnected Facilities

Digital healthcare is reshaping the way consumers access healthcare services and communicate with providers. Digital solutions are changing the industry so quickly that 62% of healthcare decision-makers agree their organization implemented piecemeal technology in order to remain competitive during the rapid acceleration of healthcare digitization. They must now develop a more strategic approach. Of those healthcare leaders, 49% plan to prioritize IT infrastructure and interoperability as they move forward. Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) keeps patients and facilities better connected by integrating multiple systems to streamline care. 

Robust patient engagement systems use such APIs, which allow added functionality via the EHR and integrations with systems such as nurse call, environmental controls, and meal ordering, to drive patient satisfaction and operational efficiency. Integration with existing healthcare information technology (HIT) applications allows for the usage of various endpoints. The smart TV in the patient room becomes a major focal point, serving targeted education and entertainment to empower patients through their care. Other smart tools such as digital whiteboards in patient rooms and digital door signs conveniently convey critical information to staff, patients, and families. Through integrated data updates, the signs receive automated information such as daily schedules, personalized precautions, and the current care team. By implementing health literacy design principles, patients can understand their care plans using relevant content based on diagnoses, treatment plans, prescribed medications, and discharge prescriptions. 

Better Insights and Connections Lead to Better Collaboration and Outcomes

To provide the ability to further connect and collaborate, automatic updates from integrated hospital systems can replace manual inputs, streamlining the delivery of care and reducing time spent performing low-value, repetitive tasks. Advanced engagement systems offer a provider dashboard that integrates with the EHR and allows the care team to view progress in real time – providing a better understanding of the patient’s journey. Here, interoperability is connecting patients and caregivers to improve communication and collaboration.

By having timely insights into the patient’s current and past health journeys, clinicians secure the data to enhance their care plan as patients gain more accurate expectations of their recovery. With access to automatically updated EHR information, healthcare teams can securely leverage de-identified data to compare similar patient demographics and relevant health histories and gain care recommendations much closer to 1:1. For example, the data may show that a patient with certain demographics – medical, socioeconomic, genomic, etc. – responds best to specific care protocols. Those personalized protocols can then be discussed with the patient, analyzed with previous health histories in mind, and factored into the recommended course of personalized care management for the best outcomes. 

Pairing Technology with Humans to Personalize Care

Better outcomes are achieved through collaboration, education, and shared decision-making. From infusion centers to emergency departments and beyond the walls of the facility, the entire healthcare organization can be seamlessly connected through universal access to a host of devices and technology. Interoperability optimizes patient self-management by seamlessly weaving two-way communications into the devices that they use every day. Constant access is provided directly to patients and clinicians. The patient’s own mobile devices can pair with the in-room experience and then utilize an IPS at home. 

An IPS integrated throughout a digital journey follows the patient and creates flexibility to generate data-driven CareFlows for productive digital interactions. Structured to answer the ongoing question of, “what’s next?” for patients, caregivers, and providers alike, CareFlows are designed to put the patient and the family at the center of their healthcare journey throughout the exchange of information and real-time data. Healthcare alerts, reminders, and communications are integrated into digital activities such as watching television, playing games, and speaking with loved ones, transforming everyday activities into opportunities for connectedness and an improved health experience. Care teams can prescribe personalized digital journeys for patients to access anywhere they go, improving patient self-efficacy in their ability to manage care post-discharge. Enabled by the personalized tools ready at their fingertips, patients are empowered to take action in their wellness journey. 

Integration and Interaction Drive Engagement

Healthcare organizations today understand the link between patient care and IT but are challenged with providing user-friendly technology required to impact care quality and outcomes. 63% of frontline workers reported spending upwards of an hour per day tracking down data, devices, or information needed to succeed at their job. Digital patient engagement tools that operate with existing systems can assist in better patient care, ease staff workload, and enhance overall satisfaction. The key is to facilitate interoperability with technology that is easy for patients and staff to use.

Mark Cortina
Mark Cortina

Mark Cortina is the Vice President, Technology at pCare by Uniguest. He leads pCare's technology strategies and manages product and application research & development. His experience in patient-facing systems led to a successful launch of pCare's mobile strategy and seamless integration with hospitals' EHR systems. Prior to his 18 years with pCare, Mark led business development strategies for a leading Interactive TV solution provider.