Things to Know About Health IT Interoperability

Health IT interoperability is the ability for different IT systems and software programs to communicate, exchange data and use the information that has been shared. This usually involves data exchange plans and standards, which allow patient’s data to be shared across doctors, health care facilities, pharmacies, and laboratories. This is usually done regardless of the software or its vendor.

Interoperability allows health IT systems to integrate within and across the healthcare organizational boundaries in order to improve the effective delivery of health services to patients. There are three levels of health IT interoperability. These are:

  • Foundational – this interoperability allows information to be exchanged from one IT system to another. However, it is not a must for the receiving IT system to have the ability to interpret the data.
  • Structural – this defines the structure or the format of the information to be exchanged. This requires consistency in the sharing of healthcare data from one IT system to another and the safeguarding of the meaning and the data. Structural interoperability allows the exchanged information between IT systems to be interpreted at the data field level.
  • Semantic – this provides interoperability at the highest standards. This means that information can be exchanged between two or more IT systems which have the ability to use the information which has been exchanged. Semantic interoperability capitalizes on both the structuring of the data exchange and the organization of the data. This usually ensures the receiving IT systems can interpret the data. Semantic interoperability also supports EHR systems, where caregivers can exchange a patient’s healthcare information. This plays a significant role in improving the efficiency, safety and the quality of healthcare delivery.

Deliberate meddling with the exchange of electronic health information is known as information blocking. Healthcare organizations and providers at times do play a major role in ensuring that their software programs and the EHR systems are incompatible with other IT systems.

This can be compared to the way companies ensure that their products are compatible with products from their business only, to encourage customer loyalty. Information blocking doesn’t, and will never guarantee the safety of the patient or maintain the security of patient’s information.

Key statistics

The proper integrations of medical standards, EHR, and interoperable standards can significantly reduce healthcare costs. Such integrations can also improve patient care and hospital facility. The efficient adoption and interoperability of proper EHR systems are expected to reduce unnecessary procedures, misconduct lawsuits, hospital stays and patient visits.

By 2013, close to 71% of physicians were reported to be using some sort EHR systems and 10% had plans in place to adopt an EHR system. Also, close to 60% of healthcare organizations were already using some EHR systems.

The following are some findings from the National Health Information Exchange and Interoperability Landscape report for 2013 by ONC.

  • 38% of healthcare providers said that electronic exchange of data decreased their ability to isolate sensitive health information from other data being transferred.
  • On the other hand, 80% of healthcare providers agreed that electronic data exchanges increased their operational efficiency.
  • Additionally, 89% of providers said that electronic data exchanged improved the quality of patient care.

Government involvement

In 2004, the President George Bush passed an executive order for the Office of the National Coordinator to be formed. This was later legislatively mandated by the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which is also known as the HITECH Act.

The primary responsibility of the ONC was to coordinate nationwide efforts of implementing the use of health IT and the electronic exchange of health information in order to improve patient care.

The federal government developed an incentive program worth $27 billion to encourage healthcare providers to adopt EHRs. Providers were required to demonstrate the ability of technology to improve safety, efficiency, quality and reduce health inconsistencies for them to earn these incentives. IT must also be used to improve care coordination and maintain privacy and security patients’ medical records.

Despite the incentives created to encourage the adoption of EHR systems, there has been little effort from the government to deal with information blocking, which significantly affects the effectiveness of EHRs.

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