Why healthcare's lack of interoperability is unethical

The current lack of interoperability between medical devices and other healthcare IT tools represents both a safety dilemma and an ethical issue, according to leaders with the Center for Medical Interoperability.

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Michael Johns, M.D., founding chairman of the center, and William Stead, M.D., chairman of the center's technical advisory committee--in a post to Becker's Health IT & CIO Review--call data sharing efforts of healthcare organizations "complex" and "redundant," noting that most tools have their own separate interfaces. To that end, they say, hospitals are forced to invest precious resources in additional systems to ensure all devices and systems talk to one another.

"This lack of plug-and-play interoperability can compromise patient safety, impact care quality and outcomes, contribute to clinician fatigue and waste billions of dollars each year," Johns and Stead write. With that in mind, they say the industry has "an ethical obligation" to push for improved tools.

"Our patients will benefit from decreased length of hospital stays through our ability to improve the speed of information transfers and lower costs related to integrating and maintaining technologies," they add.

Johns' and Stead's comments echo those of West Health Institute Chief Medical and Science Officer Joseph Smith, who recently called for health systems to push for interoperability as a requirement in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. Smith criticized the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for being slow to act on the matter, saying that it's up to providers to push for the change.

"If the big systems start saying, 'We'll only buy stuff if it interoperates,' then you will start to see change happen more rapidly," Smith said.

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, in January, released a shared nationwide roadmap for interoperability. Along with the roadmap, ONC also released a draft of 2015 Interoperability Standards Advisory, which "represents ONC's assessment of the best available standards and implementation specifications for clinical health information interoperability as of December 2014." An updated version of the roadmap is expected to be published sometime this year.

To learn more:
- read the Becker's post

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