Why interoperability is important for patient outcomes

The numerous health information technologies that have been introduced in recent years serve to improve not just the delivery of healthcare, but also patient outcomes. Electronic health records and other modalities facilitate the transition of care as it continues across multiple practices. However, none of this is possible without the freedom of interoperability.

Around the country, countless healthcare providers utilize various vendors for their EHR software in order to properly track patient health information.  When it pertains to the continuum of care, interoperability becomes indispensable and essential to the success of exchanging health data. The idea is something providers are still getting used to, but they can take comfort knowing the vendors strive to make their systems more supportive of transitioning care.

"They're extremely connected. You can't do one without the other," Jorge Taborga, executive vice president of engineering at Omnicell, said to EHR Intelligence.

The keys to interoperability
In healthcare, the different information technologies that exist in the industry must be able to communicate and seamlessly exchange data. Once the data has been transferred, providers also need to use the information effectively to faciliate care between practices. Additionally, any health information received should also be able to be transmitted to labs, pharmacies and patients regardless of the vendors involved.

According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, there are three levels of interoperability in health information technology. First, there is foundational, where one system exchanges data with others, and the receiving facility does not need to interpret the data. Next, there is structural interoperability, which defines the format of data exchange between facilities. The final level is called semantic, which provides interoperability at the highest level and permits practices to transmit and use data effectively in patient outcomes.

Semantic interoperability is what supports the exchange of patient health information between healthcare facilities using different EHR solutions. This is where patient outcomes can see massive gains and improvements.

The benefits of ACOs
Another aspect of interoperability that is essential to better patient outcomes is the advent of accountable care organizations (ACOs). These connected communities of physicians work to provide coordinated care across multiple facilities. ACOs are the perfect models to highlight the significance of exchanging health data between differing systems.

"The accountable care organizations have to lead the way in terms of actually driving not only requirements but also implementations. As these ACOs become manifested, they have to be the ones that lead the way working with people like us, exchanges, and so forth to put these things together," Taborga said.

Cutting costs and redundancy
Much like with the coordination of ACOs, smaller practices getting involved with interoperability can have a positive financial impact on their revenue cycle. For one, exchanging health information between providers would lead to a drop in repeated procedures and exams. Upon receiving the patient's EHR from his or her previous physician, redundant tests can be avoided because a comprehensive medical history is available for review.

Additionally, there is considerably less paperwork when providers can properly engage in interoperability. Staff members are not required to generate records for new patients because all of their information has been transferred to the practice. This coordination means that patients will experience improved outcomes from care because their medical history is able to travel with them. 

The ability to seamlessly transfer health data between varying systems can have a positive impact on patient outcomes. Physicians can have a better idea of how to treat patients if they have their information on hand before the appointment. Following the path laid down by ACOs, smaller practices should make sure their EHR vendors are working to provide interoperability in order to optimize their services.

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Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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