By Bruno Nardone and Muhammad Chebli, NextGen Healthcare
The past 10 years has seen a rapid evolution of healthcare information technology. In 2007, only a small fraction of hospitals and physician practices used EHRs; now they’re almost ubiquitous, used by more than 87 percent of doctors and more than 94 percent of hospitals. Although the capture of digital information in EHRs is nearly ubiquitous, there are still opportunities to improve health information sharing capabilities as organizations strive to advance population health and further participate in value-based care.
Initial Stages Of Interoperability
Federal government incentives like Meaningful Use — which now make up part of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) — have positively impacted EHRs by pushing them past point-of-care documentation and toward cross-continuum communication. With overall increases in EHR functionality have come many solutions for data sharing. Now, we’re in an era calling for information exchange technology that moves past merely meeting regulatory requirements and certifications. We need interoperable data that embodies the spirit of standards intended to facilitate straightforward, open information exchange.
Elevating Data To The Next Level
So what are the next steps for interoperability? To accelerate value-based care, organizations must be able to more easily and immediately share and interpret patient data across disparate care settings. Not only will this improve individual patient treatment, it will help organizations make greater strides in population health management by obtaining wider collection of health data.
For example, no matter the size of a practice, the likelihood is very high that information from an external data source will become critical to successful management of patients under value-based contracts. Being able to easily integrate key data sources can be the difference between achieving goals, economically or not.
Current Challenges And Opportunities
For interoperability to reach its full potential and support better clinical and financial decision-making, practice leaders should be actively looking for new interoperability features from their vendors.
One example, FHIR — Fast Health Interoperability Resources — is a standard showing early promise for breaking down connectivity barriers by providing greater clarity on interface standards between healthcare applications. When evaluating current or potential future HIT investments, practice leaders should inquire about vendors’ FHIR capabilities and future plans as a good indicator of their commitment to solutions that foster connected health.
While FHIR defines one specific approach to system integration, in general Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) should be a clear part of vendors’ solutions approach to facilitating interoperability. Practice leaders should look for a strong API strategy from their technology partners and examples of those interfaces being used in production. To cut through the hype, vendors should be able to go beyond what’s planned and share referenceable work.
Additionally, the 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in December of 2016, sets new guidelines for defining appropriate solutions thus assessing interoperability offerings against filter criteria for compliance. Under the law interoperability offerings must at a minimum be able to address:
By better understanding the technical issues and goals surrounding interoperability, providers can start to work in partnership with their vendors to break down the barriers to information exchange — and to promote value-based care in the process.
The Role Of Physician Practice Leaders
While vendors work to facilitate greater interoperability, physician practice leaders should serve as champions for more comprehensive data exchange — for both themselves and their patients. What does that role entail? Here are few key steps for providers to consider:
Now Is The Time
The shift to value-based care is building momentum, and interoperability is a critical component of getting there. Access to comprehensive health data is not about just purchasing technology and considering it done; it’s about leveraging the insights gleaned from those tools to enhance patient care. Forward-thinking physician practices and vendors understand the current technology challenges, but are working together to define value-based care goals and enable the interoperability needed to accomplish them.
About The Authors
Bruno Nardone is the senior vice president of population health solutions for NextGen Healthcare. Muhammad Chebli is the senior interoperability product manager for NextGen Healthcare. Follow him on Twitter at @muhammadc.