Technology has made it easy for people to transfer data from one institution to another with relative ease. Banks are a good example of this, providing an almost seamless ability to transfer, send or receive money from different accounts. Yet healthcare still lags far behind when it comes to interoperability. Federal regulations, electronic health record (EHR) vendors and providers all play a part in the slow path to interoperability.
A Late Start
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act into law to facilitate technology use in healthcare. The legislation created a “Meaningful Use” program, divided into three stages, that gave providers financial incentives for using EHRs, of which health information exchange (HIE) was a required component. However, ultimately it gave the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) the final say in how to implement the Meaningful Use program.
HIE would have required providers to electronically transmit a medical record when a patient was moving from one provider to another. But because CMS and ONC wanted to jumpstart the EHR incentives, the two entities decided to defer the HIE requirement to Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program. Therefore, vendors built systems without the innate ability to transfer data to other institutions. When they began moving toward Stage 2, it became much more difficult and expensive to factor interoperability into their plans.
Now, both providers and vendors are chasing their tails trying to incorporate HIE after systems have already been implemented. The problem is, they don’t have a big incentive to make it happen quickly. If vendors make it difficult to move their data into another vendor’s system, they are less likely to lose clients. The same is true for providers, who stand to lose patients who can easily transfer medical records. The United States is a country that is driven by market sustainability and profit, and interoperability can ultimately interfere with one or both of those attributes.
So, it is up to the policymakers to create an atmosphere in which both vendors and providers can pursue interoperability without compromising their position in the marketplace. Yes, healthcare is particularly tricky because records revolve around protected patient data. In fact, the sheer number of employee hours required to make data easily accessible to other systems can be nearly prohibitive for smaller technology companies.
But slowly but surely, it’s becoming more beneficial for vendors and providers to promote interoperability. Companies such as Healthjump are ready to step in to provide solutions to save money and make the process more streamlined. Ultimately, vendors know they aren’t in it alone — they can offer vital compatibility that has been federally mandated while still providing their own product. It may be taking healthcare longer than other industries to make the leap to complete interoperability, but it will be well worth the wait.
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