Understanding Health Information Exchange & Interoperability
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The terms “health information exchange” and “healthcare data interoperability” are everywhere these days, and for good reason. Over the past few years, new regulations like the 21st Century Cures Act and advancing technologies have made it much more feasible for healthcare organizations to jointly manage the care of patients via better data sharing.
However, many healthcare providers may not still fully understand the importance of health information exchange and interoperability. Many don’t even know what these terms mean and how they can use these concepts in their day-to-day practice. In the U.S., there are a variety of national networks connected to systems that create healthcare data. Healthcare provider organizations can connect to these networks to access data on patients that they are treating and for whom they legally have the right to access health data. Example networks include:
- CommonWell/Carequality: Connected to all major EMRs like Epic, Cerner, eClinicalworks
- Surescripts: Connected to 99% of pharmacies in the U.S.
With access to this type of data, providers can more quickly reconcile patients’ medications during visits, they can more efficiently learn about a new patient’s complete medical history, and they can better understand the care provided to their patients by other providers. The potential for more effective, efficient, and enjoyable care delivery with improved interoperability is massive - so first, let’s talk about what HIE and interoperability is.
Barriers to Interoperability and Health Information Exchange
Despite the many benefits, several barriers continue to impede the widespread adoption and successful implementation of health information exchange (HIE) and interoperability. Current barriers include:
- Fragmented and Diverse Systems: Healthcare organizations often use different electronic health record (EHR) systems and other software tools, most of which do not have solutions to communicate with other tools, and many of which have strong financial incentives to not communicate. This fragmentation makes it challenging to establish seamless interoperability and exchange data across organizations using different EHRs and other systems.
- Data Standardization: Lack of standardized data formats, coding systems, and terminologies across different healthcare systems and organizations hinders interoperability. Varying interpretations of standards and inconsistent data quality can lead to difficulties in accurately interpreting and using exchanged health information.
- Privacy and Security Concerns: Protecting patient privacy and ensuring data security are critical concerns in health information exchange. Organizations must adhere to strict regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which can create complexities in sharing patient data while maintaining privacy and security.
- Legal and Policy Barriers: Legal and policy issues, including complex consent requirements and data sharing agreements, can present barriers to health information exchange. Regulations and policies differ across jurisdictions and can hinder the flow of data between healthcare organizations, limiting the ability to achieve widespread interoperability.
- Operational Constraints: Implementing and maintaining interoperable systems can be time-consuming for healthcare organizations, particularly smaller practices or healthcare systems with limited resources or subject matter expertise on data interoperability. As a result, the operational burden of upgrading or replacing legacy systems and investing solutions can be a significant barrier to interoperability and health information exchange.
Bringing Data to Your Organization
There is a long way to go to achieve effective healthcare data interoperability across disparate systems, but the foundation is growing stronger every day with regulatory and technology advances. For instance, new solutions like Zus Health can help small and large systems alike in integrating data into their point-of-care workflows. Zus has built a platform that is connected to all of the national data networks, meaning that the platform provides access to patient data across:
- Medical history (diagnoses, allergies, immunizations, etc.)
- Medication history
- Labs history
- Alerts when patients are admitted, transferred, or discharged from the hospital (ADT)
Via these data network connections, Zus helps healthcare organizations deliver better patient care in the moment and more easily track success over time. After ingestion, Zus cleans the data and standardizes it to common data terminology, allowing providers to use the patient data immediately. Healthcare providers can leverage Zus’s data through a variety of integration pathways based on their workflow needs – which prevents teams from adding yet another screen to their workflow.
As a sign of the true collaboration ongoing in the healthtech landscape, next-generation EHRs like Healthie have integrated directly with Zus to bring this network of data to their customers. Providers typically spend the majority of their time in their EHR, but many of these EHRs have limited external data connectivity or poor user interfaces for accessing this data. To achieve the potential of successful health information exchange and interoperability, it is crucial for healthcare providers to understand the value of having this external patient data easily accessible where their teams already spend their time, so that they can seamlessly weave it into their care workflows.