Healthcare has recently been rife with policy changes and a “status quo” that has been anything but. And as we try to backwards engineer a new form of healthcare that can meet today’s pandemic-conscious patient’s needs, we’ve seen all manner of new policies ranging from the shutdown of elective procedures to reimbursement for previously unsupported remote care.

Interestingly enough, some good to have come from this challenge of norms is this new willingness to bring previously un-entertained advances in healthcare to the spotlight. Telehealth powered by portable computers on wheels systems, for example, has been given more than its fair share of attention and the positive outcomes have been widely observed. And while the circumstances behind remote care’s adoption are less than ideal, many of its advocates are happy to finally see some progress.

Now what if that same change in thinking, one brought on by this need for a forced and rapid transformation, could be the catalyst for progress on another widely ignored need in the healthcare sector? What if we finally begin to see a push for actual healthcare interoperability?

Sound too good to be true? Probably. However, recent news and new provisions to the 21st Century Cures Act Interoperability Laws and protections against information blocking give us reasons to be hopeful.

The New 21st Century Cures Act Interoperability Laws

 In an effort to boost interoperability and the sharing of data between care providers, the HHS has passed a new provision to the 21st Century Cures Act. The new laws require that CMS-regulated providers and payers implement HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources by July 2021 in an effort to facilitate more collaborative care between facilities. These resources include APIs that connect EHRs with third party apps, making it much easier to share stored data with both patients and other care providers.

Beyond just that, lawmakers are specifically attempting to mitigate instances of Information Blocking- or the intentional withholding of patient health information. These new laws are very promising to hear given that proper information exchange has become more necessary than ever as we receive more news about hopeful vaccinations. As these new treatments are administered, facilities will need to share results as well as manage dosages since several of these proposed vaccines require multiple doses administered a month apart. 

Understandably, the deadline for these interoperability efforts were pushed to July since providers are busy with COVID cases, however, preparing for changes in how interoperability will be handled can happen today. Not only will this make treating current cases more efficient, getting ahead of the curve can also put your facility ahead of the competition once interoperability policies come into effect.

Clearly Define Interoperability and Information Blocking

In order to tackle a problem, it helps to have a clear understanding of said problem. Interoperability has been such a buzzword in the healthcare space that its definition can often be skewed due to overuse. Take the time to familiarize yourself and your team to the HHS new rules and their guidelines on interoperability.

Also, understand that these rules have been implemented to avoid Information Blocking. Thus, any practice you could be engaging in, even unknowingly, that results in information blocking stands to be in breach of rules being passed in 2021. In order to avoid penalizations in the future when these laws are passed, it would also do your team well to familiarize themselves with the HHS and ONC’s definition of information blocking. 

This is especially true when you consider that there are also instances where withholding information actually isn’t considered information blocking. Fortunately, the ONC provides a powerful resource that helps break down exceptions to the 21st Century Cures Act Information Blocking rules that can be found here.

Prepare For Open Clinical Notes

The 21st Century Cures Act Information Blocking laws and interoperability efforts come at a time where healthcare has also been experiencing a push for giving patients access to their clinical notes. Thankfully, both these regulations and the HHS’ interoperability laws work together synergistically. By allowing patients access to their clinical notes, you’ll be giving those patients a stronger ability to share those notes and health data with other care providers.

In order to prepare for open clinical notes and also ensure patients can actually use these notes when they access them, records need to be made easier to understand and navigate. You can achieve this by using a more organized note structure such as SOAP notes that compartmentalize notes in an easy to digest, easily navigable way. This also provides the added benefit of being a popular note taking format, which means other providers who are shown these notes by a patient will likely be able to seamlessly integrate them into their treatment plans.

Open the Door to Clinical Collaboration

Efforts to improve clinical collaboration between providers have existed since before these new laws and before the COVID pandemic made data sharing even more essential. And with new telehealth applications now being supported and reimbursed, we may just see improved clinical collaboration in the near future with these new laws acting as added motivation.

If you plan on sharing data with other providers remotely, having medical hardware that removes barriers of difficulty for this type of telehealth becomes essential. As far as accuracy for more visual data that needs to be shared, a medical grade diagnostic imaging PC with a 4K display can ensure not only accuracy on your end, but that scans sent over to cooperating providers and patients are high quality and actually provide value in treatment.

Don’t Make Data Accessible to the Wrong People

One of the main reasons interoperability and data sharing have remained so difficult to incorporate into the way providers care for patients is worry over cybersecurity. It’s been proven integral that we open up notes and data to patients and other providers seeking to collaborate, however, opening up of that data should not come at the cost of also giving those with nefarious intentions access to that information. 

It’s very likely that we’ll see new cybersecurity efforts come out of the woodworks out of sheer necessity as these 21st Century Cures Act Interoperability laws come into effect. That said, doing what you can at the individual facility level can help patch up cybersecurity holes before they can be taken advantage of come July 2021. 

Be sure proper efforts are being taken to validate and identify anyone attempting to gain access to patient data within your facility. This can be done in a number of ways. For example, authentication hardware like RFID badge readers and biometric scanners can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person attempting to access notes is who they say they are. Whether these authenticators are being housed in medical-grade computers or medical grade tablets, it would do you well to ensure these readers are Imprivata certified, allowing you to use them in conjunction with protection software such as healthcare single sign on solutions that have proven their efficacy time and time again.

Prepare For The New 21st Century Cures Act Interoperability Standard

These are promising and concerning times for providers who have been advocating for new innovations such as telehealth and interoperability. On one hand, we’re finally seeing the industry as a whole take these new programs seriously and yet, on the other hand, we’ve been forced to adopt these new policies at breakneck speeds out of necessity. Preparing well in advance of the July 2021 deadline for the new 21st Century Cures Act Information Blocking and Interoperability laws can help make sure implementation of these programs aren’t rife with logistical issues and negatively impacted patient outcomes. For more information on the kinds of hardware and software needed to prepare, contact an expert from Cybernet today.