Holly Fletcher | The Tennessean
Medical interoperability is health care’s Achilles heel that, unless solved, will put the industry in a backseat position in figuring out solutions to a variety of tech problems, experts said.
The health care industry needs to ramp up efforts to sync tech systems if it wants to have a voice in how its technology and data is harnessed, experts said at a Nashville Health Care Council event.
Medical interoperability is health care’s Achilles heel that, unless solved, will put the industry in a backseat position while the government or Millennial innovators take the lead in figuring out solutions to a variety of tech problems, speakers at the panel said.
Health care technology, be it machines or software, is largely disconnected. It’s not the plug-and-play tech that allows people to save files on a USB drive to open on any computer.
Interoperability, noted moderator Ed Cantwell, executive director of the Center for Medical Interoperability, carries different meanings for different people and companies. In short, it’s the ability to connect, sync and harness technology, and the data it generates, with seamless exchange.
“You’ll know when you have it,” Cantwell said. “You’ll know when you don’t have it.”
The industry doesn’t have it.
Dr. Mike Schatzlein, Ascension Health’s senior vice president and group ministry operating executive, said that one nurse described the intensive care unit, with all its unconnected machines, and accompanying cords, as a “war zone.”
Outfitting a facility with technology is expensive, which Schatzlein said is counter to initiatives to push down the cost of care. Modernizing and integrating the tech system is going to be necessary for precision medicine — when treatment is tailored to a person’s genetic makeup.
Cantwell is leading the Center for Medical Interoperability, a new organization headquartered in Nashville, that is building a lab and bringing together leaders of industry heavyweights to find a solution. Schatzlein is on the board of the Center, along with HCA’s R. Milton Johnson, Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Jeffrey Ballser, LifePoint Health’s William Carpenter III and Community Health Systems’ Wayne Smith.
Zane Burke, president of Cerner, a health information technology provider, told the 300-person audience getting software systems to sync is crucial not only for patient care but for the financial stability of the industry as care moves from a reactionary model — where the mindset is on treating the issue at hand — to a population health model, where looking after the wellness of a group of people.
Thinking about the future business model is challenging right now because success is dependent upon harnessing the data, said Burke.
“He who has the data or she who has the data will win,” said Burke.
Both Schatzlein and Burke agreed it would be best for the industry if it was able to solve connectivity issues on its own without the government take a leading role. Other industries — apps can be developed for smartphones that can plug into any computer — have figured out connectivity issues and the speakers said all parts of the health care industry should be working to solve this.
“We would rather there be a private sector solution. … Whether you’re conservative or liberal you probably don’t want the government in this,” said Schatzlein, alluding to Big Brother concerns that could arise if the government is heavily involved in a solution.
Burke wants the industry to find a way to assign a single patient ID to each person so care is more easily matched to the right person. Federal efforts have thus far failed, he said.
A person’s medical record is strewn between many providers and facilities in different formats, ranging from paper to electronic files that don’t transfer. Burke said Cerner is passionate about easing the process of matching files and care to the person to improve treatment and outcomes as well as manage the information that will be necessary under a population health model.
Moonshot and marathon: the health care industry needs to ramp up efforts to solve technology connectivity issues, experts say.
If the industry doesn’t take the lead, Schatzlein said, it will be the tech entrepreneurs using a Google or Facebook approach figuring out a way to have information follow a patient. The effort should be both a moonshot and a marathon that’s sustainable, Schatzlein said.
“The industry has solved this in every other space,” said Burke. “It’s up to the collective ‘we’ to get our stuff together.”