The Growing Importance of Health Data Interoperability

Receiving and sharing patients’ medical information is vital for good quality, effective care. When it comes to complex patients with co-existing chronic conditions, accessing their medical history and medication records becomes particularly crucial. There are many people who receive treatment at multiple specialized health centers. It would be in the patient’s best interest for these establishments, often in the same network, to be able to communicate with one another seamlessly and share patient-relevant information. However, this is seldom the case.

That is mainly because electronic data that come from multiple sources can be difficult to exchange. New technologies used by different organizations are not necessarily aligned, which often makes interoperability a challenge. Significant time and resources are being used to achieve health information sharing, but we still have a long way to go. The good news is efforts are being made to improve the experience and deliver better health care.

Innovative Approaches for Improved Interoperability

In 2015, The Pew Charitable Trusts funded a study that explored innovative ways of accessing, extracting, and aggregating electronic health data. The study, conducted by Avalere, included five medical device registries from a diverse set of therapeutic areas. First, some of the barriers to data interoperability were identified: a variety of standards, difficulty sharing between different platforms and concerns about data security, to name a few.

The final report suggested some innovations that could help address these barriers. Policy recommendations included:

  • Creating a private-public sector committee that would, among other things, work on developing a common data model for data exchange.
  • Developing groups that would examine and harmonize existing security regulations.
  • Building on recently enacted interoperability and information sharing provisions, and incentivizing vendors and registries that use it.
  • Formally addressing the ability to send data to third-party clinical data registries.

Recently, health technology experts suggested that blockchain technology could improve interoperability. This technology offers an easy transfer of data between different organizations with no need for a third-party verification. However, more planning will be required before blockchain innovations can be applied to our health-care system. Currently, patient data is still best stored in the cloud.

Companies Championing Interoperability Innovations

Some companies are already offering novel solutions that could improve data interoperability and, consequently, improve patient care and clinical decision-making. One such company is 3M—a global innovation company that applies science to different organizational problems. 3M designed an approach that translates and standardizes patient data, keeps vocabulary standards, matches data and facilitates access to data. Its service-orientated architecture (SOA) approach strives to create meaningful, actionable data and works across different systems.

Validic is another example of a company that works on accessibility and data integration. Its cloud-based technology platform acts as a bridge between patient-recorded data and hospital systems. Patients who use health applications, clinical devices and wearables can now easily share their information with the health-care provider. This improves access and patient engagement and also helps solve the integration challenge of mobile health technologies.

Validic, considered the world’s leading digital platform, is serving over 160 million clients in 47 countries and is dedicated to continuous growth. In 2015, Validic announced a collaboration with Higi, a company that developed a community-based health kiosk network. The strategic collaboration provided an opportunity for health-care organizations to access an even more diverse and actionable data pool. For instance, Validic’s app now provides support for authenticating and retrieving biometric data (blood pressure, pulse, and BMI) obtained by Higi’s stations located in various pharmacies and grocery stores. Validic is also teaming up with other companies, including Partners Connected Health. The aim of these collaborations is to bring data from wearables and home devices into the existing clinical workflows and fit them in the patients’ care plans.

Vendors Supporting Interoperability

When it comes to implementing interoperability, friction between the electronic health records (EHR) vendor community and the government is often noticed. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has perceived the private sector to be potentially “information blocking.” A 2017 survey conducted by the University of Michigan Schools of Information and Public Health also showed that information blocking remains a national challenge. However, some vendors have shown a proactive approach to solving the interoperability challenges.

For example, during the 2015KLAS Keystone Summit in Utah, vendors took measures to improve health data interoperability. Twelve EHR vendor companies, including athenahealth, Cerner, Epic and McKesson, agreed to measure interoperability using an objective measurement tool and report to Washington on an ongoing basis. Interoperability was measured in two ways: transaction counting and clinicians’ experience. In 2017, KLAS produced an interoperability report that showed interoperability in health care doubled in one year, going from 6 percent to 14 percent. Epic and athenahealth ranked as the best vendors in terms of interoperability. The report concluded that gradual progress is there, however, the providers’ expectations have not been met yet.

An international study of 13 countries that have already implemented nationwide EHR systems found that private vendors׳ involvement is inevitable and has been recorded in almost all phases of the development cycle. The consensus among vendors will make information exchange more transparent and could facilitate future interoperability efforts. It appears that the private sector is initiating a form of self-regulation—they are open to working closely with the government—but at the same time, they do not want to be regulated.

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