August 1, 2019

4 Tips for Successful EHR Interoperability

Dave Levin, MD

Chief Medical Officer

Precision medicine, population health programs, and value-based payment models continue to disrupt and transform traditional healthcare markets for consumers and providers alike. Since they are data-driven, there is the need for seamless, effective communication across disparate systems (including EHR solutions that’s pervasive to the healthcare sector) to ensure their continued success.

The shift to value-based care also triggered a deluge of strategic partnerships, acquisitions, and mergers in the healthcare industry, leading to what industry stakeholders called the “merger mania.” Although this led to benefits and better economies of scale, they also introduced new challenges, particularly in the integration of clinical data.

Despite advances in healthcare tech, many healthcare providers continue to battle with interoperability challenges, especially with EHRs being the preferred method for extracting clinical data. With thousands of EHR vendors in the marketplace, EHR integration and interoperability now plays a crucial role in the success of data-driven care. However, the existence of so many silos makes EHR interoperability a difficult (and near-impossible) task.

According to a HIMSS Analytics report, hospitals use 16 distinct EHR platforms, on average. The majority of network physicians (that make use of different EHRs) report that they lack the technical expertise and financial means to implement complex interoperability, which is necessary to receive the higher reimbursements that are built into value-based care initiatives for both private and public payers.

To help healthcare providers forge ahead with quality care and the implementation of robust population health and analytics initiatives, let’s take a look at four tips for successful EHR interoperability in today’s value-based economy.

1. Evaluate New Solutions

As the healthcare industry moves towards more advanced phases of meaningful use, success in such a value-driven healthcare landscape requires providers to achieve true EHR interoperability. This would require stakeholders to look for new solutions with the ability to connect with various kinds of healthcare entities, health information exchanges (HIEs), and so on.

Such solutions should also be able to handle multiple types of information (from various EHR systems) including test results, orders, clinical documents, scheduling information, appointment summaries, immunization records, financial information, and demographics.

2. Reevaluate IT resources

Despite using multiple EHRs, 85% of networked physicians (according to a Black Book survey) look to core EHR systems to support the variety of data-driven initiatives and enable interoperability among integrated healthcare delivery providers. As such, there is a need to reevaluate IT resources to ensure they meet value-based care requirements and are able to facilitate interoperability on three levels: semantic, structural, and foundational.

  • Semantic interoperability: This level ensures the highest level of interoperability by supporting the meaningful exchange of patient data among disparate systems. It ensures that providers have access to the clinical data that’s most relevant to a patient’s care.
  • Structural interoperability: This addresses and defines the syntax of data exchange. It allows systems to interpret patient data at data field levels, thus reducing the need for human interpretation and facilitating faster reconciliation of patients’ healthcare records without extensive manual effort.
  • Foundational interoperability: This level of interoperability deals with simple data exchange among systems without the interpretation of said data. Human intervention and manual effort are needed to interpret data and what it means for patient care.

3. Define Standard Data Sets

Viewing Patient Data

There are several thousand EHRs in the marketplace today, with each system having distinct capabilities, and utilizing different service models, technological architecture, and schema. Since no two EHRs have the same schemas or documentation practices, migrating and transforming data still remains a major pain point, especially since the data received are usually in different formats (CCDA, HL7 feeds, X12 files, etc).

Solving this dilemma requires health IT vendors to agree on the use of standard data sets and interoperability format for data exchange, but even then, there’s no guarantee that every vendor will implement those agreed-upon standards in the same way – one of the most prominent integration challenges with HL7 standards. Robust API solutions, like Integrate, support the seamless exchange of data between EHRs, clinical, and administrative applications through universal, real-time REST APIs and a unified data model.

4. Widespread Standardization

It’s high time healthcare organizations stopped viewing EHR systems as the center of the universe and demand that health IT vendors focus more on widespread standardization of data acquisition, collation, formatting, and conversion techniques.

Although advanced EHR technology comes with capabilities that lend themselves to improved interoperability, the key element still remains the patient data needed by clinical health professionals. Focusing on the usefulness and standardization of patient data rather than the functionalities of EHR systems will lay the foundation necessary for improvements in health data exchange and successful interoperability.

By following these tips, healthcare providers and institutions will take a giant leap towards achieving successful EHR interoperability and effectively delivering on population health initiatives and achieving true value-based care.

tag EHR HL7 integration API Interoperability FHIR


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