EHR interoperability can make or break the patient experience at your practice. But “interoperability” is not exactly an everyday term, so its importance might not be immediately clear when you first hear about it.
In this article, we will explain all about EHR interoperability: what it is, why it’s important for your practice, and the benefits and challenges of implementing it.
What is EHR interoperability?
EHR Interoperability is the systemized process that allows the transfer of patient health data between EHR systems. It’s a central element of communication with other medical professionals and healthcare stakeholders.
Interoperability is essentially the ability of different information systems to access and exchange data in a coordinated manner, providing seamless and timely portability of patient information. The process results in the optimization of the patient’s health outcomes.
Having high EHR interoperability standards means you can get the right data to the right person at the right time—which can be crucial for providing quality patient care.
Why is EHR interoperability important in healthcare?
Interoperability is important in healthcare because it enables seamless sharing and exchange of patient data across different healthcare systems and providers. This ensures coordinated and informed care delivery while minimizing errors and duplications, which ultimately improves patient outcomes.
Patients who see multiple providers benefit greatly when their healthcare is appropriately coordinated.
Being able to see visit notes and test results input by a specialist in a patient’s electronic health record (EHR) makes primary health providers better equipped to work with the patient on improving their outcomes.
The link between EHR interoperability and primary care is critical for the patient’s health and the practice’s success.
Making the right data available to the right people is the key to EHR interoperability. Improved workflows and reduced ambiguity are two of the major benefits for both providers and patients, as interoperability allows data transfer between EHRs and between healthcare stakeholders.
EHR technology standards are critical in creating an interoperable environment, including:
- How applications interact with users (such as e-prescribing)
- How systems communicate with each other (such as messaging standards)
- How information is processed and managed (such as health information exchange)
- How consumer devices integrate with other systems and applications (such as tablet PCs)
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Benefits of EHR interoperability
So other than improving communication, what are some of the benefits of having high EHR interoperability standards?
Interoperability of electronic health records ensures:
When data is shared across systems and applications, the rate of medical error deaths is significantly reduced. It also gives providers insight as to how such errors can occur, so they can take action to further prevent them.
To be fully effective in reducing medical errors, EHR interoperability must extend externally across healthcare organizations.
Consistent access to patient data in real-time can mean all the difference in the patient’s health and safety.
When patients see multiple providers, data availability is crucial. Interoperable data can further enable the provider to quickly identify the cause of a patient’s medical issue, enabling the provider to make faster, more informed decisions as to the patient’s care.
The increased efficiency seen as a result of interoperable EHRs also reduces repetitive and administrative tasks, which can aid in reducing the provider burnout rate and impacting the quality of care.
Improved patient experience
Beyond the coordinated care that can improve the patient’s outcomes, EHR interoperability also improves the security of the patient’s information. Protected health information (PHI) is more secure when the data is entered into an interoperable system.
The patient’s privacy is better protected and patient-facing tasks, such as completing multiple, sometimes duplicate forms, are reduced or eliminated.
Challenges with EHR interoperability
Here are a couple of things to consider when focusing on EHR interoperability at your practice:
Security of patient data
Interoperability can pose challenges regarding the security of patient data. EHRs must be able to share information seamlessly and securely. Putting safeguards into place, per the HIPAA Security Rule, can ensure that all data transmitted between systems is protected.
Technical Safeguards, one part of the Security Rule, concern the technological systems used to provide access to, and protect, electronic protected health information (ePHI). ePHI must be encrypted to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards if the ePHI leaves the organization’s internal firewall servers.
Lack of standardized data
One of the biggest challenges with EHR interoperability is the management of inconsistent data from multiple sources. If the information comes from another database, it may be stored in a different format than you are used to.
Be careful when interpreting data so as not to assume it’s in the same format you use at your practice.
3 Best practices for overcoming interoperability gaps
To ensure the highest interoperability standards at your practice, you should implement the following protocols:
Find an EHR with an API integration
A modern API and consistent formatting of data allow you to integrate easily with any healthcare organization. Implementing APIs will greatly increase your practice interoperability.
Complete continuous data mapping
Using data mapping can help to eliminate issues with non-standardized formatting across platforms. It can also help you to generate insights from your EHR to improve patient outcomes.
Combining the information from your data mapping with that of other practices can help with forecasting, case studies, drug trials, and more.
Collaborate with stakeholders
Actively collaborating with stakeholders will help to align your processes and goals.
What is care collaboration, exactly? It is coordinating openly with other physicians and stakeholders to ensure you are providing the highest quality, holistic care plan for your patient.
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