According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, 32% of individuals who went to the doctor in 2018 reported a gap in information exchange. This gap included anything from needing to redo a test because their prior data was unavailable, provide medical history because their chart could not be found, bring results to an appointment, or waiting longer than expected for lab results. This lack of data stewardship causes a loss of patient data, which forgoes interoperability that the health IT industry has been working toward for 20+ years. Below we will discuss the move to interoperability, key takeaways from the April 2022 ONC annual meeting, and the importance of archiving data.
Right data, right time, right format
Interoperability is about having the right data at the right time in the right format. Interoperability is also a critical component for systems to communicate. Inability to access patient health records is not just an inconvenience; in some cases, it could be the difference between life and death, which is why managing data and ensuring its access and usability between systems is important. Data must be easily accessible and usable for patients and physicians without exerting any undue effort. Having data that is accessible is imperative for providing high-quality, effective and efficient healthcare. Patients should be able to seamlessly transfer their data between health organizations. Continuity of care relies on the interoperability of systems, which makes the entire healthcare process more effective for everyone involved.
Key takeaways from the 2022 ONC annual meeting
The ONC meeting in April placed importance on interoperability for the future of healthcare. Incorporating acceleration of real-world health evidence into research demonstrates the necessity and timeliness of the ONC’s guidance. The meeting dove into several relevant discussions relating to interoperability and the 21st Century Cures Act, and access of patient records across critical ancillary systems. A summary of the themes discussed at the ONC Meeting are highlighted below.
- Interconnected EHR highway
Interoperable systems serve as the foundation for health information exchange highways. Many organizations are adopting Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), especially due to the 21ST Century Cures Act. FHIR was developed to meet the growing amount of health data and the need to exchange that information quickly between computer systems. Under the 21st Century Cures Act, any practice that prohibits patients from accessing their data or limits them from transferring their data wherever they want it to go is a violation. For this reason, interoperability is paramount for adherence with the Cures Act and to meet the needs of patients in modern times. FHIR is the standard health systems should be implementing to provide efficient, holistic patient care.
- Effective healthcare begins with easy access and transfer of patient data
The 21st Century Cures Act also addresses information blocking to remedy the impact of data silos across an organization’s ancillary systems. The implementation of numerous systems within an organization may hinder the accessibility of data if each system is not interoperable. As organizations evolve and implement new systems, the need to preserve legacy data in a meaningful and accessible way has become top priority. When legacy data is archived and made accessible through standard methods such as HL7 FHIR, it creates an ecosystem that allows the patient and care team members to make quicker and better clinical decisions that are data driven. Making legacy data easily available also ensures compliance with data blocking regulations.
Interoperability coming to fruition
Interoperability has been talked about for decades. Health organizations are implementing FHIR standards across their existing systems and are archiving legacy data. These steps will make healthcare more effective and efficient while meeting the regulations put in place by the 21st Century Cures Act.
Data stewardship is critical given the vast amount of patient data available. The future of healthcare is unfolding with interoperability and FHIR at the forefront. Access to data can lead patients and healthcare teams to make better, more informed and effective decisions about clinical care.
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