The vision and realization of interoperability in health care IT has been evolving and manifesting - slowly - over many years. Significant progress has been made in technology, health care policy, and the mindsets of the people and parties involved. In 2019, we are witnessing an invigoration around the topic, and here at pMD, we are excited to be a part of it.
New Rules Surrounding Interoperability in Health Care IT
In February of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed new rules surrounding interoperability, which aim to improve electronic access to health information. The rules will require the industry to implement standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable electronic health records (EHRs) and other health care technologies to integrate and transfer electronic health information (EHI) between them by 2020. The rules also require that patient electronic access to this EHI be made available at no cost. These rules are not only directed at providers, but also payers, who must make their data available to patients and Health Information Exchanges.
This is great news! But before we drink the newest flavor of interoperability Kool-Aid, let us be aware that the call for patients’ access to their medical record has been sounding for many years. Back in the early 1970s, the legendary Dr. Larry Weed - the “father” of the EMR - said prophetically, “The patient must have a copy of his own record. He must be involved with organizing and recording the variables so that the course of his own data on disease and treatment will slowly reveal to him what the best care for him should be.” — Dr. Lawrence Weed, “Your Health Care and How to Manage It.” Dr. Weed was a tremendous force in evolving health care technology to where it is today. However, his work took decades to get to a point that, unfortunately, feels like a starting line today.
Speaking of decades, it has been 10 years since President Obama introduced the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) Act of 2009, which, along with “meaningful use” incentives of Obama Care, propelled the industry toward the use of EHRs by laying the framework for widespread, secure use of modern interoperability standards such as HL7, FHIR, and Continua. This often overlooked aspect of the HITRUST Act has been a tremendous catalyst to leverage technology for better patient outcomes.
Barriers to Progress in Interoperability & Data Openness
Although ideas of interoperability and openness have circulated for many years, progress in these areas has been relatively slow and not without obstacles. In his keynote lecture at the 2016 Connected Health Symposium, Dr. Harlan Krumholz, MD, SM (Professor of Medicine and Director for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale), describes one such barrier: the perceived conflict between individual business interests and the interests of the industry at large. In short, some data holders (i.e. hospital systems, payers, pharmaceuticals, software vendors) feel that it is to their competitive advantage to restrict access to the data in their possession and, in doing so, have presented major challenges to using all available resources to provide the best possible patient care.
Modern Technologies Attract Major Tech Players Supporting Data Openness
Luckily, corporate bureaucracy has not completely impeded the advancement of technologies that will enable new ways to deliver health care. The evolution of HL7 FHIR and other internet standards are laying the foundation for fast, secure open APIs and web services, key components to creating a patient-centric system in which providers can focus on what they do best - guide patients to better health outcomes. These modern technologies have drawn the attention of many big time technology players to health care (i.e. Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce, Amazon, Google), further supporting the drive for data openness.
Innovation & Cooperation in a New Era of Health Care Technology - It's Exciting!
This renewed spirit of cooperation is certainly needed as we continue to push for a health care world that is both patient-centric and provider-friendly. It is sweet music to our ears at pMD, where we have many years of experience integrating with different health systems and software vendors across the country. We’ve encountered our fair share of roadblocks along the way, but those obstacles pale in comparison to the many successes we've had in supporting doctors to improve patient care while streamlining business operations.
2019 may indeed be a milestone year due to a perfect storm of policy change, technology maturation, and the expectations of both patients and providers in regards to technology. The demand and opportunity for change at this scale is much bigger than any one company, and I'm personally very excited about what we (as a collective industry) can do for both providers and patients as we all continue to innovate and cooperate in this new era of health care technology.
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