HEALTHCARE INTEROPERABILITY: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT FOR NAVIGATING OUR WAY THROUGH THE PANDEMIC

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The lack of consistent interoperability with electronic health records (EHR) has been exposed when natural disasters have occurred in the past, and as COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide at an alarming rate, it is more relevant than ever. The important question clinicians and large health systems should be asking right now is: “Will EHR systems be able to perform effectively, and more importantly, be able to handle increased volumes, changes to documentation requirements, and accurate sharing of data as this continues?”

What is healthcare interoperability?

Interoperability in healthcare is the ability for devices, software, and information systems to connect within or outside the boundaries of physician practices and health systems to exchange and access patient data for the purpose of addressing health issues with individual patients and the general population.

Why is interoperability important?

Interoperability is important for a variety of reasons, primarily because it:

  1. Protects patient information
  2. Assists researchers in accessing information needed for specific studies and methods of treatment
  3. Improves staff productivity by using digital documentation and decreasing redundancy of data entry
  4. Exchanges data with other systems in an efficient manner
  5. Provides a better experience for patients

What role does interoperability play in the pandemic?

Perhaps now, more than ever, clinicians need access to accurate and up-to-date patient information in one centralized location. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, making it extremely difficult and burdensome for clinicians, especially in a time of crisis. The same holds true for data sharing among public healthcare officials. Successful sharing of data will make it easier to identify trends in symptoms, recovery times, mortality rates, etc. across different health systems and geographic locations. However, historically, clinicians and health systems have not used the same information systems, data formats, or even data standards, making it more difficult to share data in a timely and efficient manner.

Interoperability should play a vital role in the distribution and administration of a COVID-19 vaccine, as it is important to be able to access, track and disseminate information and data related to the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine protocol is still somewhat unknown, but once determined, clinicians and health systems will be forced to rely on the information given and available at that time.

The complexity of EHR systems makes upgrades slow and expensive. EHR vendors have been required to launch continuous updates to their systems to align existing clinical structures (order sets, past medical history questions, etc.) with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) best practice recommendations. As COVID-19 studies advance and evolve to include new risk factors and symptoms, EHR vendors, clinicians, and hospital systems will be tested.

Interoperability will keep playing an important role as COVID-19 continues to impact health systems around the world. Now is the optimal time to ensure your EHR and other software platforms are up to date and allow you to manage the increasingly complex and fluctuating aspects of this global pandemic.

Patrick Garcia is an Associate Director with MMG Healthcare.  His background includes experience in areas including practice management and oversight, strategy, revenue cycle management, planning, project management, process implementation, and systems integration.  Patrick actively advises clients on behalf of MMG, supporting their efforts to deliver optimal business and clinical outcomes.  Additionally, MMG has been formally recognized as a multi-year Northeast Ohio Top Workplaces award winner.

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