interoperabilityWhat is interoperability and how does it affect your EHR decision-making process? “Interoperability” is a word you may be hearing more of now that we’re reaching a critical mass in terms of healthcare providers who are using EMR software.  And like many things in healthcare, most stakeholders seem to agree that we need it, but few agree on how to get there.

HealthIT.gov says that “EHR Interoperability … improves the delivery of health care by making the right data available at the right time to the right people.”

The site defines EHR software interoperability standards as including 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)

What EHR interoperability boils down to is being able to share medical information as needed between various IT systems and products (such as electronic medical records software) to improve patient care.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the healthcare ecosystem doesn’t seem to know how to get there, and it’s been a very piecemeal process so far. Interoperability has been such a challenge due to resistance from some vendors who physicians say engage in “information blocking,” high data exchange fees, lack of incentives that is causing development to lag, and vast technical variations.

The ONC expects the healthcare IT industry to solve the problem, but hasn’t defined how the industry is going to achieve the goals for interoperability described above. Instead they are leaving it to EHR vendors along with others in the industry. In a February interview in Medpage Today, Doug Fridsma, MD, PhD, ONC’s chief science officer, said that “If we work with the industry, they can not only take ownership of the problem, but be part of the solution.

“People are going to realize that a vertically integrated system is not sustainable, and we’re going to have to start doing a horizontal integration,” Fridsma said.

Where is HealthFusion in the EHR Interoperability Continuum?

As a 2014 Meaningful Use certified EHR, MediTouch provides Direct Messaging to our users; there is no charge to our users to get a secure email address and to connect to the Health Information Service Provider (HISP) we use. Our HISP is completely open to trading information with other EHRs; we use the Surescripts HISP, a leading provider that is also used by Epic, GE Healthcare, NextGen and others.

At least in theory, this allows healthcare providers to send Protected Health Information (PHI) securely to other providers such as specialists, labs, hospitals, etc. In reality, as we discussed in our recent blog post “Stage 2 Meaningful Use Was a Pipe Dream for Eligible Professionals AND CMS, Part I,” most community-based physicians are not currently able to accomplish this for several reasons we outlined in that post, including their referrals not being set up with secure messaging, their server-based EHR software not being updated, etc.

But in short, MediTouch is ready and able to take part in electronic information exchange.

As a demonstration of that ability, HealthFusion participated in a landmark showcase event that demonstrated the secure exchange of patient records via the Direct Method email protocol recently at the HIMSS 2014 conference. MediTouch was one of just a select few EHRs that were invited by Surescripts, the most comprehensive clinical health information network in the country, to demonstrate secure data exchange between disparate EHRs via the Surescripts Clinical Interoperability hub at the “Record Locator & Exchange: Accelerating Connected Care” showcase.

HealthFusion is also pleased to announce that we have recently successfully completed a real-time data exchange between Miami Children’s Hospital’s (MCH) hospital information system and the P.E.D.S. EHR Office Edition Electronic Medical Records based on HealthFusion’s MediTouch EHR.

Dr. Sol Lizerbram, Chairman and co-founder of HealthFusion, said that both organizations hope this successful information exchange will address some of the frustrations expressed by healthcare providers.

“Both physicians and hospitals have voiced frustration over the lack of interoperability between different types of electronic health records systems,” said Dr. Lizerbram. “The new P.E.D.S. system represents improved communication between community physicians and the hospitals they work with, both in terms of technology and improved care.”

Is your practice able to exchange information electronically with other providers and institutions? Let us know what your experience has been in the comments box.