Interoperability Message at HIMSS15: Good Cop/Bad Cop

Interoperability – a hot topic

Health data interoperability was a hot topic at HIMSS15, the 2015 annual conference of the Health Information and Management Systems Society. It makes sense that HIMSS is focused on this issue because the whole point of the organization is to provide better healthcare via information technology, and clearly patient care improves when devices are seamlessly integrated and health companies are working together synergistically.

The conference just concluded in Chicago, and the nearly 40,000 people who attended are going back to their doctor’s offices, hospitals, and health technology provider’s offices having been inundated with the idea that interoperability is not a desire but a necessity. This idea was trumpeted most noticeably by federal officials, who – politics aside – are ostensibly taking action to build a more reasonable system so that patients receive better care.

Why interoperability matters

One of the best ways to understand the issue is to talk to the people in the trenches who are actively treating people every day: nurses. As it turns out, nurses are convinced that medical errors would be significantly reduced if interoperability were achieved: the Gary and Mary West Health Institute surveyed RNs around the country and found that three in five said medical errors would be diminished if device systems were integrated and no data were blocked.

“Even more marked was that half of them said they actually witnessed a medical mistake due to the lack of interoperability of these devices,” explained Healthcare IT News, “which include infusion pumps, electronic medical records and pulse oximeters.”

Furthermore, the institute argued that $30 billion could be saved through interoperability.

Health information exchange – good cop/bad cop

Key statements were made at HIMSS15 by major federal healthcare officials regarding interoperability. Two officials spoke in a shared keynote, and the tones struck by the two were reminiscent of a “good cop/bad cop” routine.

Good cop – Karen DeSalvo, MD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

Karen DeSalvo said that she felt interoperability was fast approaching. She has recently traveled around the country to gauge people’s perspectives in various stakeholder positions. After that experience, she is convinced that momentum is building.

In order to achieve interoperability, she points out, everything would have to be digitized. Plus, health information exchange is not actually enough in and of itself – because that’s just transferring records. True interoperability would mean that systems could just feed data seamlessly to one another as needed.

[W]e need to develop a strategic approach that would leverage health IT beyond electronic health records using levers beyond meaningful use to bring not only better healthcare but better health,” DeSalvo argued.

DeSalvo also discussed the Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC’s) April 2015 report to Congress, “Report on Health Information Blocking.” The 39-page document was sent to Congress in response to their request for a report on data blocking within the healthcare industry – essentially an assessment of the information-blocking challenge along with strategies to overcome the challenge.

DeSalvo also suggested that people should come forward with whatever suggestions they might have related to organizations or individuals that they believe opposed data interconnection and are actively working to prevent it.

Bad cop – Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

Andy Slavitt is another top-ranking federal healthcare official. He actually shared the keynote with DeSalvo. One reporter said that Slavitt seemed to be well-suited to the task of guiding healthcare through turbulence as major changes are made in the healthcare industry and regulatory approach. Whereas DeSalvo talked about the bright, collaborative future ahead, Slavitt wasn’t pulling any punches. He wanted action.

Slavitt wants a healthcare infrastructure that is more technologically cutting-edge, for the sake of real care rather than gimmicks. He specifically targeted investments into wearable devices as somewhat of a distraction from the primary concern of better patient care. His rallying cry was that the major point of focus for the healthcare industry should be making sure that care can be delivered properly, as enhanced by the systemic coordination of interoperability.

Slavitt said that he recently visited a healthcare provider and was bothered by the inability of the company’s systems to monitor care that occurred in other facilities.

“To be clear: this won’t be acceptable to patients,” commented Slavitt. “It will not be acceptable to care providers. It’s not acceptable to tax payers. It’s not acceptable to us.”

Chief of Police – Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Why were DeSalvo and Slavitt so opinionated on this topic? Just like executives and clinicians in the private sector, they have long been frustrated with obstacles that prevent the healthcare industry from delivering care more accountably – especially in light of HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell’s description of changes to the Medicare system, an Obama Administration initiative aimed at gearing payments toward results.

HHS is “setting clear goals–and establishing a clear timeline–for moving from volume to value in Medicare payments,” Burwell explained. “We will use benchmarks and metrics to measure our progress; and hold ourselves accountable for reaching our goals.”

Working clearly toward interoperability

The thing is, providers are the least of the issue. The main problem is that technology systems are generally built so that their data is locked into a proprietary framework.

At Clear Data, we’re fundamentally concerned with delivering solutions that allow your business to maintain compliance with federal regulations and to achieve your interoperability objectives. In  fact, we are pioneers, delivering the only exclusive healthcare cloud in the world.

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