Sara Heath | HealthITInteroperability | April 27, 2016
The healthcare industry is slowly but surely moving toward health data interoperability, and much of that progress stems from projects based in Nashville.
If technology works so seamlessly and comprehensively in most walks of life, why isn’t health data interoperability stronger?
That is one of the main questions on most healthcare professionals’ minds, as well as the talking point of Baker Donelson’s chairman of the health law and policy department Richard Cowart’s recent article in The Tennessean.
Cowart begins his piece lamenting a recent doctor’s appointment where he faced the arduous task of completing a six-page, handwritten medical history for an out-of-system provider. This was hard for Cowart to wrap his head around, considering he can talk with anyone in any place in the world, or transfer money to his daughter studying in Switzerland.
“In healthcare, information gathering and transmission is maddeningly redundant and extraordinarily atomized,” Cowart writes. “Hopefully, relief is in sight.”
Health data interoperability is certainly becoming a more achievable goal, Cowart notes, citing the progress industry groups in Tennessee are making. Earlier this month, the Nashville Health Care Council held a forum where industry experts discussed the future of health data interoperability.
According to an NHCC press release, industry notables like Cerner’s Zane Burke commented that data interoperability was still a goal the industry was working toward.
At the forum, Burke, alongside Ascension Health Vice President Mike Schatzlein, noted that part of the interoperability issue centers on the inability to exchange information across disparate systems. Often, providers face issues when exchanging data from one vendor’s interface to another’s.
To overcome this issue, the industry needs to develop interoperability standards. According to Burke, this is a cut-and-dry issue because vendors who do not comply with interoperability initiatives will not last on the market.
“Either you’re going to be open and interoperable, or you will be obsolete,” Burke said.
According to Cowart’s article, this viewpoint paints an accurate picture of healthcare interoperability. Despite some advances, technology often bars providers from exchanging data across disparate systems.
“As information technology has advanced, health professionals and systems have seen improvement, but they remain frustrated by the inability to integrate data from multiple sources, a veritable ‘built to fail’ model when manufacturers create technology that will only communicate with other products made by the same manufacturer,” Cowart writes.
Other organizations also contribute to the boost of interoperability, including the Center for Medical Interoperability, the Nashville-based organization which held the above-mentioned forum. According to Cowart, the Center for Medical Interoperability is located in Nashville due to the city’s robust healthcare presence.
In terms of interoperability projects, the Center is promoting work to develop better technology standards, allowing any device using any program to tap into the same repository for health data.
“The center is in the process of developing common communication standards for medical devices, with a multi-year plan that will bridge point-of-care information, health applications, enterprise technologies and, ultimately, national health information exchanges,” Cowart says.
“The desire is for all patient data to be connected across the spectrum of care, whether home, ambulatory, acute or post-acute. The goal is for every health device to be able to ‘plug-and-play’ off a single interoperable platform.”
Going forward, Cowart sees a healthcare technology future that looks a lot like other technologies. Just as the banking industry has evolved from tellers, to ATMs, to now online and mobile banking, the healthcare industry will follow its own trajectory to improve interoperability.
An expect Nashville to be at the epicenter of this progress, Cowart notes.
“Banking was once ATM and swipe cards, but now it’s chips and wireless. Similarly, the future of health information is wireless,” Cowart concludes. “The bedrock of health decision making is current and accurate data. As the nation moves to the next level of clinical efficiency and effectiveness, expect Nashville to be the center of architecture, planning, and certification for medical interoperability.”