6 Benefits of Healthcare Interoperability

6 Reasons We Must Embrace Healthcare Interoperability

For those of you who caught the first piece in our Healthcare Interoperability series, you’re probably already buzzing with ideas about a truly interoperable system, one that could create completely new avenues in medicine and patient care. From cutting costs and reducing invoices, to avoiding errors and providing patients with better quality care, interoperability is pivotal to the future of healthcare. 

This story from Rich Piper, an IT director caring for his sick mother, demonstrates the value of interoperability. He and his mother dealt with repeated paper intake forms and unneeded waiting times during basic treatment for her sciatic nerve pain.

“The repetition in paperwork, the hurry up and wait game, the lack of communication … The entire ordeal was disheartening,” writes Piper. “I think the hardest part was seeing my mom in so much pain. Even more frustrating is that I work in health IT, and I know that technology exists that can help solve these problems.”

As an industry, we have been working on healthcare interoperability for a long time. It is absolutely an iterative process, and at EnsoData, we don’t believe the healthcare industry as a whole is where it needs to be at this time. Too many people count on the healthcare system, and unfortunately, it’s failed the general public too often. Let’s make true healthcare interoperability a priority, because the public is counting on it. With that said, let’s dive into a few of the more valuable benefits to a fully interoperable system.

1. Powering new discoveries

Better data access can prevent complications in a surgery, provide patients better continuity of care and coordination between provider networks and help crucially in out-of-network emergencies. But thinking proactively, bigger datasets may solve a myriad of health mysteries. 

With the right data inputs, Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are able to better identify future patient problems. In fact, many of the data points that are currently covered by the exchange mandate prove to be foundational markers of future health. For example, Budhiraja et al. found a persuasive body of data supporting the idea that the commonly-exchanged diagnosis of sleep disordered breathing leads to hypertension, coronary artery disease (CAD), arrhythmias, congestive heart failure (CHF), and stroke.

Here is another common opinion, shared in this Lehne, et al. study: “Most of today’s medical data lack interoperability: hidden in isolated databases, incompatible systems and proprietary software, the data are difficult to exchange, analyze, and interpret. This slows down medical progress, as technologies that rely on these data – artificial intelligence, big data or mobile applications – cannot be used to their full potential.”

Perhaps the biggest value of interoperability, is the possibility of previously unthinkable technological and medical advancements. AI has the potential to open doors to health and disease we didn’t know existed, but only with comprehensively interoperable data access. The Lehne study goes as far as saying: “we argue that interoperability is indispensable for advances in digital health and that it is, in fact, a prerequisite for most of the innovations envisioned for future medicine.” 

We couldn’t agree more with this line of thinking, and the data presented in their study and others backs up the notion of future discoveries coming from interoperability.

2. Quality of care 

It’s not just finding new discoveries that’s important. Providing better care and reducing patient risks are also important. When patient information is easier to access, medical professionals will spend less time chart-skimming and more time with patient-facing care. This was demonstrated in a recent HealthTech article, “Presenting data to care providers in real time and in a consistent manner can boost efficiency across an entire organization.”

Per the Jefferson Health data, using data visualization tools led to a 25 percent increase in on-time OR starts. Not only was patient satisfaction up, but Jefferson Health realized savings of nearly $300,000 a month. It’s almost as if waiting and unnecessary costs can be eliminated with proper data sharing! 

Imagine a world where your doctor has all your medical information from all your healthcare providers displayed in an easy-to-understand dashboard whenever you have an appointment. Imagine the impact these tools could have on long patient wait times, rushed appointments, and the problem of clinician burnout. This hypothetical could be reality in a world where data is synchronized across different health information systems.

This is especially important for patients who require emergency care while on vacation or traveling for work. An interoperable system saves crucial time and helps doctors make the right decisions. It can give an out-of-network team better access to patient information like past symptoms, allergies, pre-existing conditions, previous surgeries, medical issues, and more. This allows for faster and more exact and coordinated treatments. It’s a win for patients, and it simplifies the lives of medical professionals.

3. Patient risks 

According to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins over an eight-year period, 44 percent of medical error deaths were preventable and more than 250,000 deaths per year are due to medical error in the U.S.

The study doesn’t put blame on the medical doctors themselves, rather the report states: “most errors represent systemic problems, including poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the absence or underuse of safety nets, and other protocols, in addition to unwarranted variation in physician practice patterns that lack accountability.” 

Errors like not knowing a patient’s allergy history would be more avoidable with interoperable systems in place. These same systems would also help reduce costs as processes become more efficient and more consistent in their ability to achieve best-in-class quality measures and ultimately patient outcomes. 

Martin Makary, a professor at Johns Hopkins, was quoted on the value of an interoperable system in reducing patient risks and a standardized operating procedure. “Developing consensus protocols that streamline the delivery of medicine and reduce variability can improve quality and lower costs in health care,” said Makary. 

4. Financial benefits

According to Blackford Middleton, M.D., et. al 2014, “Standardized, encoded, electronic healthcare information exchange would save the US healthcare system $337B over a 10-year implementation period, and $78B each year thereafter.” 

Per the report, a substantial chunk of that money would be saved as a result of reduced duplication of lab and imaging orders. The improved communications between various providers would also save time and money with the added benefit of reducing unneeded testing. While the overwhelming value of an interoperable system is tremendous, getting there is a challenge. So, looking at short-term financial benefits is equally important.

According to the Business Payment Coalition, “the utilization of an e-Invoice Interoperability framework provides efficiencies and benefits including significantly reducing the cost and complexity of sending and receiving invoices.” Simply put, it’s easier to get patients their bills when the system can pre-populate and automate much of the process.

5. IT efficiencies 

Interoperable systems also save IT teams both time and headaches during implementation and general maintenance. According to this GE survey, one in three hospital IT leaders claim their hospitals’ and health systems’ data-sharing efforts are insufficient. The main issues: sharing and making use of available data. In an interoperable system, there is less data abstraction as manual exports and imports from one system to another are not required. Fewer applications and logins are needed to manage day-to-day operations, as the integrated system would show information across specialities in one location. Because there are fewer barriers, clinicians can put more time toward face-to-face patient care by spending less time in front of a computer. 

As mentioned above, the ease of access to data will help improve internal efficiencies in health systems. When systems are integrated, it is easier for clinicians to work with patients internally, as data is more accessible. It is also more difficult to access a “vault” of information when there are fewer gates and gatekeepers. One system, managed by a smaller team is more secure than the disparate, disconnected solutions deployed at aging healthcare systems across the country.

6. Privacy concerns

We live in the age of information. With new laws like GDPR and CCPA, and more recently the ONC Final Rule, people have more legal rights to their personal data and information than ever before. In the healthcare industry, the data blocking final rule from ONC basically makes patients the arbiter of where their data goes, lives and can be used for, rather than the provider.

Patients who want access to all their healthcare information will be able to gain access more readily when their healthcare provider is using an interoperable and integrated IT system. Similarly, an integrated system creates a more secure environment where users are easily identified, and access to patient data is fully tracked and managed. 

The Big Picture for Interoperability

Ultimately, healthcare interoperability benefits patients, healthcare providers, and health systems substantially. Consider the amount of pain and suffering Rich Piper’s mom could have avoided with simple EHR transfers. Multiply that by the number of people dealing with similar issues, and it is glaringly apparent that healthcare systems need to make interoperability the standard. Sadly, the healthcare system is far from achieving true interoperability today. 

Achieving interoperability should be equally important to us as patients, since easy access to our own data allows us to take agency over our health, quality of life, and the providers we choose to trust with our most important and pressing healthcare needs. EnsoData‘s priority is to bring true interoperability to sleep medicine. EnsoSleep, our Waveform AI scoring and analysis software is already making a huge impact in the world of sleep. Our solution is interoperable with different viewing platforms making your transition to AI seamless and easy. Connect with us to talk about how together we improve patient care using uniform data in sleep medicine.

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For those of you who have made it this far into our healthcare interoperability benefits piece, you might be interested in our other recent blog content.

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