Oct 03 2019

3 Ways Interoperability Can Improve Patient Care

From reducing medical errors to enhancing the patient experience, interoperability offers many benefits.

As technology continues to evolve, healthcare organizations gain access to improved tools and better information. And while such progress offers clear advantages to providers, data generated by this new technology is continuously being siloed by archaic electronic health record systems, thwarting much of the potential positive impact. 

Modern day patients expect their health data to be readily available as they move from one provider to the next, and some of the nation’s largest tech companies indicate that they’re working toward a solution that would make this possible: healthcare interoperability. 

In a recent joint announcement from Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce, the tech giants voiced support for healthcare interoperability. While this announcement alone shows that the concept is a growing focus for the industry, a 2019 SAP white paper surveying 100 healthcare executives notes that 52 percent of respondents agree that data sharing is poised to have the greatest impact on patient experience.

But the larger issue is that interoperability is not necessarily easy to implement. A recent report from the Center for Connected Medicine shows that fewer than 4 in 10 health systems are successfully sharing their data with other systems. For many organizations, a mix of cloud APIs and interfaces poses the main challenge to achieving true interoperability.

Still, Healthcare IT News reports that nearly 75 percent of healthcare organizations have at least reached the most basic level of interoperability, which suggests the industry is making some headway. Widespread interoperability in healthcare may remain a sizable challenge, but the concept promises major benefits. Here’s a look at three of them.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: Laying the foundation for IT innovation in healthcare.

1. Reduced Medical Errors

Medical errors now account for approximately 9.5 percent of deaths in the United States, according to an analysis of medical data published in Studies in Health Technology and Informatics. The analysis also states that medical error rates are significantly higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries, which makes finding a solution to reduce them even more pressing.

Interoperability offers organizations ways of preventing medical error deaths by making it possible to share data across systems and applications. This allows care providers to have a better understanding of how and why these errors occur and empowers them to take action.

Still, simply standardizing data within a single healthcare system isn’t enough. To fully enable physicians to reduce errors, interoperability must happen externally across healthcare organizations — not just departments in a single organization. 

“Partial data only leads to partial insights,” Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst for ZK Research, tells HealthTech. A lack of patient information, he notes, can ultimately mean the difference between knowing about a patient’s pre-existing condition and making an unintended fatal error. 

2. Increased Efficiency

Presenting data to care providers in real time and in a consistent manner can boost efficiency across an entire organization. According to an IDC white paper examining data readiness and growth, the healthcare industry is projected to grow faster than any other industry. 

Through 2025, IDC states, the healthcare industry will rapidly increase the amount of real-time data created and improve its data readiness immensely. With these and other healthcare analytics advancements, interoperable data would further enable providers to quickly identify the root of a patient’s problem and empower them to make faster and more informed decisions.

For example, an emergency room patient might need blood tests performed, costing the healthcare system time and money. With interoperable data across organizations, a care provider might access the patient’s health record and find they already had blood tests conducted earlier in the week. In some cases, that data would be usable, helping the patient receive more rapid care.

A seamless exchange of health data will not only cut down on the repetitive tasks physicians often perform, but also on the administrative ones, such as patient data entry. This will help reduce rates of physician burnout, greatly impacting the quality of care being delivered and leading to more cost savings and efficient workflows.

READ MORE: Find out what shifting health plan models will mean for IT.

3. Enhanced Patient Security and Experience

Healthcare organizations that enter data such as protected health information into systems lacking intercommunication may find it difficult to track the various locations where it exists — a notable setback when seconds count. 

And, as HealthTech reports, when employees expose PHI for the sake of convenience, such as writing the information down on paper to log at a later time, organizations lose awareness of where that data actually lives. Not only does this make for process headaches, it also makes organizations more susceptible to a breach.

The interoperability of EHRs, however, offers clinicians the ease of mind that the PHI they input is secured. When PHI is entered into an interoperable system, administrators of the system can pinpoint users, track their actions as they input data and effectively manage their access rights, securing patient data and protecting their privacy in the process.

It also has the potential to aid those receiving care by reducing or eliminating patient-facing tasks, such as filling out multiple forms or re-explaining their medical history. This could spur faster and more accurate treatment as a result.

Doing so requires time and money: “[O]rganizations must invest in technology that facilitates interoperability between internal systems and external facilities as well as revamp existing, outdated processes and infuse them with efficient intelligence and engaging encounters,” the SAP white paper states.

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