Despite progress on health IT interoperability, tough questions remain

Data-sharing in healthcare remains difficult, and despite assertions that the industry is on the cusp of a breakthrough, many are impatient with the slow pace of progress.

Those attending the Digital Healthcare Conference in Madison, Wis., last week addressed some of the biggest questions about the sad state of interoperability, according to InformationWeek. Among them:

  • Shouldn't data standards allow easier sharing across vendor systems? Epic CEO and founder Judy Faulkner (pictured) said that data standards describe only "a very, very small subset of the data that's really there," according to the article. Intermountain Healthcare CIO Marc Probst has told FierceHealthIT that lack of standards has his team redesigning interfaces over and over. At the conference, Jamie Ferguson, vice president of health IT strategy and policy for Kaiser Permanente, however, said that existing standards are "perfectly good" for close to two-thirds of needed records, but that electronic health records tend not to be implemented well based on the standards.
  • Why isn't there an API culture in healthcare? Kaiser Permanente, for one, has heeded the call to release open application programming interfaces (APIs). Its Interchange API will allow developers to integrate Kaiser data on its facility locations into their apps through the company's developer portal. More so than other industry sectors, however, closed systems remain the bulk of healthcare technology. Epic's Faulkner has responded to such criticism as "unfair." At the conference, she said Epic releases source code to customers, but not to other vendors. Judy Murphy, deputy coordinator of programs and policy for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, told conference attendees that the office is trying to create a more open culture by pointing to successful projects, such as iBlueButton.
  • Why aren't there better ties to specialist systems, from optometry to cardiology, to easily update the EHR? Physician dissatisfaction with their EHR systems overall has been growing, with specialists in particular finding systems do not meet their needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for one, has been working to change that. Faulkner,  however, told the conference that if Epic were to build ties to every other vendor, "we would do no more development on our software. All we would do would be interfacing to the other vendors. … We would need thousands of programmers just to be on top of that."

The debate about interoperability will continue to evolve past the conference, as it did after vendors Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth and Greenway Medical Technologies announced in March the formation of the CommonWell Health Alliance to facilitate data exchange. Faulkner has said she thought that, on the surface, CommonWell appeared to be "a competitive weapon."

To learn more:
- read the article