Today's Interoperability Challenges
Near-term solutions for data exchange and security challenges
More than $29 billion has been spent so far to promote the use of electronic health records, but the industry’s progress toward interoperability remains slow. Even though many doctors and hospitals have adopted EHRs to capture patient information electronically, only a small percentage are able to routinely exchange that data with other providers.
Evidence suggests that some vendors and providers have gone so far as to deliberately block the exchange of health information, fearing they will lose business by sharing patient data with competitors. Congress is taking steps to prevent such information blocking by imposing fines on those charging exorbitant fees to transfer information or those refusing to share information with providers outside of a given health network.
Still, providers using systems from different vendors are not typically able to share data electronically. EHRs rarely communicate with each other, and even less frequently with the long list of ancillary systems managing health-related data outside the EHR. A 2015 article in The New York Times described these obstacles to digital record sharing, using an example from a family physician who prints his notes and sends copies to a hospital across the street when admitting a patient. Even though his clinic has an electronic records system, it’s different than the hospital’s and will therefore not exchange data electronically.
Because of these interoperability challenges, most hospitals receive either paper or faxed copies of physician orders and notes, and physicians in turn request copies of patient test results and treatment plans. In the event that records are missing or delayed, patients are forced to wait for providers to track down needed information. And in the absence of a necessary result or scan, providers must reorder tests, which increases costs and delays patient care...
Facilitating the secure electronic exchange and management of patient health data is critical for providers to effectively manage the volume and complexity of information now surrounding patient care. Safeguards are needed to ensure that data is accessible, but only to those authorized to view it. Providers cannot wait for a security breach or dangerous error to occur before implementing HIPAA-compliant methods to manage and exchange information between systems and covered entities.
1. Pear, Robert. “Tech Rivalries Impede Digital Medical Record Sharing.” The New York Times. May 26, 2015.