A follow-up to the 2015 AHA report

Interoperability is the final destination on a long road of confusion that has plagued the healthcare industry. Today, interoperability doesn’t only matter – it’s vital to the call for healthcare providers and payers to offer value-based care and to meet federal regulations.

In 2015, the American Hospital Association (AHA) published a report titled “Why Interoperability Matters.” This report serves as a valuable resource towards understanding the key barriers to interoperability, which is especially important since this article, published earlier this month, cites statistics showing shockingly slow growth of EHR availability to patients.

According to the AHA’s report, 75% of hospitals “employ at least a basic EHR.” However, only 23% of the hospitals surveyed report being able to perform all four of the basic interoperability functions, which are to find, use, send, and receive data from electronic health records. And while nearly 78% of those hospitals can send data to other providers, only 40% of them can actually use the information.

Interoperability Progress Remains Slow

Earlier this month, HealthAffairs.org published a study titled “Progress in Interoperability: Measuring US’ Hospitals Engagement in Sharing Patient Data.” This study reflects upon the most recent data available to researchers on interoperability. Hospitals that are able to effectively perform all four interoperability functions only rose to 29.7%.

According to the research article’s abstract, “Our results reveal that hospitals’ progress toward interoperability is slow and that progress is focused on moving information between hospitals, not on ensuring usability of information in clinical decisions.

It seems the slow growth being measured by researchers could indicate that the healthcare industry is still grappling with barriers to interoperability. A report by the Government Accountability Office identifying key challenges to the issue was referenced and summarized in the AHA’s 2015 study, which stated that “costs and other factors, such as loose standards, are major barriers to improved interoperability.”

New Standards Paving the Way

Exciting developments in interfaces, identified by the AHA as one of the primary areas beneficial to improving interoperability, have occurred over the last two years. Industry influencers seek to leverage existing technology and use it to reduce costs and increase data integration.

For example, many authorities, including the Federal government, are supporting the use of API technology. Boasting low-costs and open-source formatting, APIs level out the playing field and promote widespread conversion to a standard.

The report by AHA notes several individuals who feel that solving the solution to interoperability comes down to establishing good data practices through a set of standards. As we’ve discussed previously on the blog, in the last year FHIR standards have been adopted by some major players in the market with the hopes that quick adoption will promote standardization, seen as an instrumental next step.

Interoperability or Bust

In 2017, we no longer question why interoperability matters. Our industry has come to understand that care coordination, patient access, and data sharing are cornerstone concerns. Federal mandates are pushing for innovation by requiring interoperable functions and open-sourced formatting for EHR data.

The initial question posed by the AHA is simply now a statement: Interoperability Matters. It matters, and will continue to be important in the years to come. As key lawmakers, leaders, executives, and patients continue to drive the need for improved interoperability, many in our industry continue to seek an innovative solution that will make data more integrative and usable.

Seth Hobgood is CTO at Interoptex.