Marc Probst: Interoperability is 'taking too long'

WASHINGTON--While Intermountain Healthcare is "very bullish" about the work going on around interoperability, "if public-private partnerships mean 'let's do it slower,' then they're bad," Chief Information Officer Marc Probst said during a panel on such partnerships.

Probst's comments came during the "Public-private partnership: Advances in Interoperability" panel at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's annual meeting in the District of Columbia this week.

While the start of the discussion focused on the Defense Department's installment of a new electronic health record system and Cerner's involvement in the project, it later turned into a debate between Probst (pictured) and David McCallie, M.D., director of the Cerner Medical Informatics Institute, on the topic of interoperability.

"I think we're going to quickly discover that our current definition of interoperability is pretty woefully lacking," McCallie said. "Even if we have all of the complexity filtered away with one national way to interchange data seamlessly and quickly, I think we're going to discover that that's not very satisfying to clinicians, they actually need a much more actionable level of interoperability."

Probst responded, saying that is an area where he and McCallie "might not agree."

"[Interoperability] saves billions of dollars and it saves lives ... I think my biggest challenge is, it's taking too long," he said. "We have to find a better way to get it done. If public-private partnerships mean 'let's do it slower,' then they're bad. But if we can find ways to get things done much more quickly, then we've got to figure out how to do it. This is just that important."

McCallie countered, saying while he agrees about the importance of interoperability, "I think we are in fact moving pretty fast. It's just a big complex space."

He noted the application programming interface requirement in Meaningful Use as one place where they are moving forward. In that requirement, the EHR has to expose APIs for providing physician-facing apps to use as well as through the portal for patients to use, a requirement Cerner is "heartily in agreement with," McCallie said. 

"There is power in the regulatory demand," he said. However, he added that groups like the Argonaut Project allow for a reasonable chance of "when we get there that it'll actually work, instead of being just picked out of ... a list of standards to say 'go do this.'"

Probst jumped in to say that what the industry is trying to do "isn't that hard." The aim is to define a set of data that can move between information systems, and in health systems across and country and in banks it's done all the time, he said.

But, he added, "what we've done is we've laid a whole series of assumptions of what has to happen that has made it impossible to do and incredibly difficult.

"I think we need to get a very firm legislative approach to standards and get them in place in our country so we can save lives and money," Probst said.