Data is crucial and one of the most valuable resources healthcare has when it comes to caring for patients today. Unfortunately, sharing this data isn’t exactly easy. Information systems and EHR software are incredibly diverse and many of them can’t communicate well with each other, making clinical collaboration both internally and between two separate healthcare facilities notably stunted. 

Many times, sharing clinical information between two disparate systems means a natural loss in both the quantity and quality of data. This is because the way information is stored on these systems isn’t standardized, meaning the way one doctor or system records data isn’t one-to-one to how another does. This predictably results in crucial data being lost in translation, whether it be due to human or software error. 

The quest for remedying this glaring issue has led many heads in the industry to chase after the ever so elusive state of “healthcare interoperability,” or the coherent communication of healthcare information technology such as medical computers, EHRs, wearables, and more.  

What is Healthcare Interoperability and How Far Away is it?

HIMMS describes interoperability as “the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data and interpret that shared data.” So, for two systems to be interoperable by HIMMS’ definition, they need to be able to share data between themselves and present it in such a way that a physician could understand and fully implement that data into their treatment.

In a perfect world where interoperability was realized, various pieces of healthcare information technology could share information with each other seamlessly and without any loss in the accuracy and quantity of data. And while the code hasn’t quite been cracked yet, every day, efforts are being made to make this not the case.

Just this year, the department of health and human services (HHS) proposed new rules geared towards supporting the reliable transfer and use of electronic health information. Among the new considerations, they included:

  • New tools that give patients more agency over their treatment options. 
  • Standardized programming of patient apps that allow access to important clinical information. 
  • The requirement of plan providers to embrace open data sharing technologies. 

All of these suggestions would do wonders towards achieving a seamless flow of information on patients, one that, because of its standardized nature, wouldn’t be susceptible to poor translation between systems. Being realistic though, testing and implementation of these changes will likely take quite a long time. 

So where does that leave hospitals suffering from interoperability issues in the here and now? What can a facility do internally to help the interoperability effort?

1. Consolidate Your Hardware

Industry-wide interoperability is a ways off and until some major strides are made, efforts are better centered around the internal interoperability of your own facility. That being said, one of the strongest first steps you can take towards that interoperability is localizing all of your hardware onto a single device.

Data works like a game of telephone, each time it’s sent from one software to another or from one device to another, a little clarity is lost until you’re left with a swiss cheese-esque patient record filled with holes and missing information. The more data you can consolidate into one system, the less lost in translation, the more interoperable your operation becomes. 

A medical grade all in one computer or medical grade tablet can function as an important data hub if it supports the right customization. Take, for example, a medical computer outfitted with an RFID scanner. With that included hardware, prescriptions can be scanned and logged, assets such as tools and equipment can be tracked, you can even keep tabs on patient movement around the facility if they were given an RFID bracelet upon their admittance. 

Imprivata certified single sign on software and hardware can even be included in the right medical pc model, allowing you to keep track of who was working when and who administered treatment to which patient. 

Having all of this hardware that would otherwise be externalized into peripheral devices saves on translation issues between systems and provides a more complete picture of any given patient and their healthcare journey.

2. Consolidate Your Data

Now that we’ve addressed the hardware, let’s take a look at what we can do with the data housed inside it. 

As much as we’d like to believe they are, EHRs are not the end all sources of information on a patient. Truth of the matter is, there’s a goldmine of information on a patient’s health that can be drawn from a myriad of different sources such as wearable devices, gene-based tests, and socio economic data. And with so many different information systems contributing bits and pieces to this big picture look of a patient, bringing it all into one system without some of it getting muddled or lost becomes difficult. 

If you find yourself hitting this information bottleneck, it could be worth looking into something like a data warehouse. Data warehouses function as a central repository for large amounts of information. With one of these warehouses, data is pulled from several systems including transactional systems, relational databases, and anything else you make use of and neatly packages it into one source. 

Health Catalyst’s Data Operating System, for example, can ingest data from an unlimited number of source systems and updates them in real time for doctors in need of up to date information on their patients. 

Utilizing a data warehouse can help patch the holes in a patient’s health record that are typical in the current day and age, resulting in more informed and effective decisions made towards patient treatment. 

3. Communicate with Your Vendors

With so many different information systems each speaking their own language, the last thing your facility needs is to implement a new system that refuses to communicate with the ones you already have on board.

If you know you’re going to be implementing a new EHR or clinical system, always speak with the interface vendor. Firstly, they can inform you if the new interface will need extra hardware or software in order to support data exchange from the other systems on your network. If it does, you’ll need to know so you can place someone in charge of managing that hardware to ensure the data transfer can proceed smoothly daily. 

Secondly, you’ll want to know your vendor’s typical response time when it comes to offering support. Timing is crucial when it comes to patient care. If you’re new information or clinical system fails during a critical moment, you won’t want to be sitting on hold for 45 minutes.   

Set Your Own House Before Looking at the World

As of right now, interoperability between caregivers, healthcare providers, patients, and other hospitals isn’t even close to where it needs to be. EHRs don’t communicate with each other well, doctors and different teams have different notations and record-keeping languages, and there’s no standardized format for notes to be taken in.

This can be frustrating, but there’s nothing that can be done to sway things outside of your immediate sphere of influence. Until more standardized procedures are created, the most you can do is have your own house in order before trying to address the bigger elephant in the room. 

If you would like to learn more about how to enhance the interoperability efforts of your own practice with a medical computer, contact a specialist at Cybernet today.