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Explaining interoperability challenges for EHRs

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Electronic health records (EHRs) that talk to each other help independent physicians provide quality care to their patients. Primary care physicians are able to collaborate with specialty providers and all providers caring for a patient are able to view patient data with one click. Often, though, EHRs are built with different interfaces, technical specifications, and capabilities; and interoperability becomes a challenge.

The Office of Health Information Technology (IT) states that “standards are particularly critical in four areas of EHR technology:

  • 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)”

Interoperability often poses challenges regarding the security of patient data as well. 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.

Interoperability is crucial for the coordinated care that many patients need, particularly those with chronic or complex health issues. Rather than waiting for faxes or returned phone calls, all providers can easily access patient information when different EHR system communicate with each other, providing a higher level of quality care for that patient.

Elation’s Collaborative Health Record (CHR) is a centralized dashboard with a patient’s story, notes, and test results, managed by all of the physicians treating a patient. Every time a patient sees another provider, that physician can add their report to the CHR and make it viewable to the primary care provider. With EHR interoperability, all providers can make more informed decisions about the patient’s health.