The rate of adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) has steadily increased over the past several years as more healthcare providers have become increasingly comfortable documenting and storing their medical data electronically. There was a significant increase in the adoption of EHRs following the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009; this law was enacted to promote the use of EHRs for patient documentation as well as storage by healthcare providers. EHR adoption prior to the passage of the HITECH Act was at 3.2%; following its passage, the adoption rate jumped up to 14.2%.
One of the issues that arose through the use of different EHRs by the different providers was that of communication and data exchange. Since the different EHRs had different communication standards, they were unable to communicate and effectively exchange data with each other. These EHRs, therefore, had to be configured so that they were interoperable with one another.
WHAT IS HEALTHCARE INTEROPERABILITY?
Healthcare interoperability refers to the ability of EHR systems to effectively communicate with each other and exchange relevant medical information. In true interoperability, effective data exchange occurs irrespective of the EHR platforms used by the healthcare providers. EHR systems that have the same communication standards and message structure are highly interoperable and data exchange can easily occur between these systems. For EHR systems with different communication standards and message structures, however, it may be necessary to use an integration engine to facilitate their interoperability.
In a bid to enhance interoperability between disparate EHR systems, a common communication standard known as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) was developed. Released in 2017, FHIR is an internet-based protocol that can be used to exchange patient information regardless of the EHR platform used. Though still in the trial phase, FHIR is gradually being adopted as its benefits become more apparent by stakeholders in the healthcare industry.
BENEFITS OF HEALTHCARE INTEROPERABILITY
There are several benefits to the ability of disparate EHR systems to effectively communicate and exchange patient information. Some of these benefits include:
- Improved patient care: Interoperability enables the various providers involved in the care of a patient to easily share relevant medical information with each other. This leads to better patient care as the providers have all the information needed to establish a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
- Improved patient safety: Duplication of treatment modalities is reduced with interoperability because healthcare providers involved in a patient’s care are able to share information with each other. Furthermore, this prevents providers from developing conflicting treatment plans that may be harmful to the patient.
- Accurate reporting: Medical reports are essential in the evaluation of treatment modalities as well as to monitor trends in different types of medical conditions. Interoperability simplifies the tasks involved in getting the necessary data needed to generate these reports.
CONSEQUENCES OF POOR INTEROPERABILITY
There are several adverse consequences that could result from the inability of EHR systems to effectively communicate with each other:
- Legal: Interoperability between EHR systems is a legal requirement in most states. Therefore, failure of EHR systems to effectively exchange data may result in legal consequences; this is especially so if patient care if negatively impacted.
- Financial: Some financial reimbursement from the Federal government is directly tied to the EHR adoption as well as interoperability. As such, healthcare providers whose EHR systems are not fully interoperable may face reduced reimbursement.
- Poor patient care: The quality of care offered to patients may be reduced if EHR systems are not fully interoperable. This is because healthcare providers may not have all the relevant information needed to make an accurate diagnosis and develop an optimal treatment plan.
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