There have been a few headlines recently highlighting the significant advancement in interoperability. But one report points out plenty of areas that may still need improvement. What changes still need to happen? Is there really an opportunity for providers and vendors to work together even more than they have in recent months? Some suggest there is plenty more to do, and the data exchange could stand to see improvement beyond the recent advancements.
Lessons Learned from 2020
There’s no question. The pandemic forced the healthcare industry to adapt in new ways. Patient data is exchanging at a higher rate now more than ever, and interoperability is starting to feel like the new normal. IT interoperability is presumed to be the pillar of moving toward a better execution of patient matching and public health reporting. We witnessed first-hand how quickly the various federal agencies stepped up to streamline patient-centered solutions. We also learned that vendors and providers can actually pivot quickly to adapt when necessary.
As a healthcare vendor or provider, you may recall a few knee-jerk changes you implemented to improve patient data flow or clinical applications. When necessity called for it, your business model proved to be dynamic enough to shift with the times. But like the interoperability enhancements at the federal level, is there room to improve your process even further?
One Report Signifies Major Improvements
A KLAS-CHIME report, released as a white paper recently, discovered that “deep interoperability” has doubled over the last three years. It went on to point out that nearly two-thirds of provider organizations claim to “almost having enough” needed access to patient records and history.
This report really puts the numbers to how far the data exchange and interoperability movement has come since 2017. More specifically, electronic health records exchanged between external systems have shown considerable improvement. Other signs of progress include hospitals connecting with ambulatory clinics, a huge step in the field of patient emergency care and procedural care. The report authors, however, do point out that we can’t stop to celebrate the interoperability advances just yet. There is still plenty of data exchange flow enhancements that need to happen.
Information Blocking & Transparency
Providers and vendors can expect more information blocking prohibitions, and IT developers are going to bear responsibilities with regard to certification conditions. Transparency at every level is the order of the day, and it’s evident the focus is on devising a better method for patients to access their data across a variety of platforms. Ultimately, this will allow patients to make the best use of their out-of-pocket budgets, as well. Some say you can see just how targeted this movement is by looking at the language in recently passed bills and regulations. Federal agencies are “building momentum” with a “desire to move even more quickly.”
Rolling Out the Vaccine
Nothing created more demand for interoperability than the launch and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. The FDA issued emergency use authorization last December for the first two manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Nine different vaccine makers signed up for the race to produce, meaning there are other vaccines nearly ready for FDA evaluation and are in current clinical trials, as well.
Patient data exchanging is critical under any circumstance. But when it comes to allocating strategic doses of vaccine, health, and health IT leaders have to analyze accurate data and exchange patient histories to deploy and administer an effective strategy. You can’t coordinate a limited dose vaccination plan without being to share patient data between entities. Making it even more imperative is the nature of the vaccines themselves. Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna variations come in a two-shot form. Imagine not being able to track which patients qualify for the vaccination in the first place. Then imagine not being able to exchange data that would allow patient tracking of who already received the first dose.
At the federal government level, officials are looking for data tracking to verify which patients receive which vaccination, as well. The interoperability side of this exchange will mean records and reporting match at every level. Healthcare providers are pinpointing not only which patients are eligible to receive a shot but also track the precise vaccine batch given. They then manage the strict timeline between both shots to ensure patients receive their second doses within the designated timeframes. Some states are handling the vaccination tracking and deployment better than others. But the mass effort to move toward a population of protected patients is forcing health IT leaders, healthcare providers, and vendors to interoperability solutions.
The Critical Use of APIs
The Pew Charitable Trusts sent official letters to both the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in an effort to show resounding support for patient data exchange with the use of application programming interfaces. We’ve discussed the critical use of APIs before. And as a vendor or provider within the industry, you likely already understand the importance of APIs to the interoperability movement. But the delay by the ONC last October regarding information blocking and certification rules needs attention. Pew and several other organizations expressed urgency in their letters to the ONC and CMS to remove these roadblocks.
The moral of this interoperability story is that while we’re getting close, we’re not quite there. There are significant advances in data exchange through the use of APIs. And the ONC’s final rule, requiring developers and providers to promote such data applications, helps reinforce the movement. But there is still room for system improvement, and it seems the pandemic continues to teach us lessons about finding resolutions quickly when we need to do so, and patients’ health depends on it.
For the latest interoperability news, you can always visit the Promoting Interoperability Program news and updates from CMS. And if transitioning your business model to improve your data exchange is on your to-do list, contact us. Leveraging APIs now is a critical step for any health IT provider. For the right partner to help you navigate through your updates and service platforms, Softheon can help.