Moving the Needle of Interoperability; Can We Expect it to be Seamless, YET?

As we all get used to writing the digits “17” in our signature lines, at DataFile we’re reflecting back on 2016 and the many advancements that were made towards interoperability across all stakeholders in the healthcare continuum. One of our consultants started this past year at an educational event in the Midwest where a representative from a small private practice asked if “digital fax” was considered participation in interoperability. As we wrap up this year we know the amount of health information exchanged has hit unprecedented levels and will only continue to grow. Providers at all levels, from the hospital to private practice in rural America, are utilizing digital tools and relying on technology to communicate with their patients and with other providers in a variety of settings. HealthIT systems are working together to make the transmission of information easier between systems and achieve the goal of seamless data exchange.  But what do we do until then?

While we continue to advance interoperability, there is much more work to be done before we can consider the exchange of health information to be “seamless” or “automated”. Our CEO, Janine Akers, has coined the phrase, “Interoperability Does Not Equal Automation”. In February of 2016, the ONC published the “Nationwide Interoperability Road Map” and sets up a number of milestones to measure advancement and success along the way. With the ultimate goal of a “seamless data system”, actions related to key components such as security and consistency are highlighted in this guide. It states that for the years of 2015-2017, the measure of success is to “send, receive, find and use priority data elements to improve health and health care quality.”  A recent article published in the January 2017 Journal of AHIMA states that the ONC and HHS will continue to focus on three areas to advance interoperability in the upcoming year:

  1. Promoting common standards to facilitate the seamless, secure exchange of data.
  2. Building the business case for interoperability; particularly through delivery system reform efforts that change the way CMS pays for care to reward quality of quantity of services.
  3. Changing the culture around access to information.

Our Regulatory Compliance Advisor, and member of AHIMA, Kathryn Ayers Wickenhauser, believes the ONC is on the right track. Wickenhauser and Akers share the sentiment of the Journal of AHIMA article that much more work is to be done to achieve full, seamless (or automated!), interoperability. “While we continue to support and work as a unified stakeholder in the nationwide interoperability roadmap, DataFile realizes a continued need of providers across the country will be to help fill the gaps where automation does not happen quite yet.” Akers continues to share that, “the human element is still very important. In many current instances of data exchange, we need a well-trained eye to ensure that information flows correctly from the different healthIT systems and is in a usable format for that crucial moment of patient care.” As interoperability does become more automated, Akers acknowledges that leaders will need to determine how to ensure that automation is working and most importantly, compliant. “We are actively involved in better understanding what audit protocols will need to be implemented for our clients and the industry as a whole,” Janine states. “It’s the next step in further discussions of interoperability and we’ll hear more  about audit protocols in the coming year.”

Seamless. Automated. We’re getting there. And in 2017, the healthcare data experts at DataFile look forward to continuing to move the needle of interoperability, while delivering real-time, important data exchange support to providers and health systems alike.