The Urgency of Interoperability

The word “interoperability” means different things to different people. By definition in the IT world it is the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information.

While most healthcare providers want and understand the importance of EHR interoperability, most also say (according to this 2017 survey) that current interoperability solutions fall short of meeting patient needs.

I must admit, as an implementation consultant, my primary focus is usually on how an EHR functions within the four walls of the client hospital. But I recently had a very personal experience that reminded me that EHR data must be accessible and shareable to truly benefit patients and improve care.

My daughter, who lives in Louisiana, has battled addiction for over 15 years. While visiting us in Alabama, she relapsed with severe complications. She went to the ER in our town several times and had multiple tests and blood work conducted.

Unfortunately, her insurance would not cover care in Alabama, so we rushed her back to Louisiana with a promise from our local doctors that they would transfer all of her test and lab results to her physician in her home state. They did not—and they could not.

Because there was no way for the two hospitals to electronically exchange her information, and because of the urgency of her complications, the doctor in Louisiana was forced to repeat all of the tests previously done in Alabama. This, of course, cost both time and money, both of which were very important in this situation.

Our personal experience aside, it’s clear that advances in interoperability could significantly impact our nation’s Opioid epidemic. With greater visibility into prescription histories across state lines, providers could flag patterns of opioid abuse and even help direct addicts into treatment.

Granted there are significant hurdles to overcome if we are to achieve true interoperability. But I’m encouraged that vendors, providers and lawmakers are working together to try and remove those hurdles. Collaborative, vendor-driven efforts, like the Opioid Safety Alliance, are critical to ensure that lifesaving healthcare data can be shared in a timely manner.

As a father and healthcare IT consultant, I know interoperability is more important today than ever. As an industry, I hope we act with greater urgency to make it happen.

Jeff Mason is Director, EHR Solutions for Healthcare IT Leaders

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