Hospitals lagging in assessing interoperability needs

Though healthcare executives understand the importance of timely electronic exchange of information among care providers, nearly half have yet to fully assess their health information exchange and interoperability needs, according to an ECRI Institute survey.

The non-profit institute polled 132 hospital, health system, and integrated delivery network healthcare professionals. Overall, it found a disconnect in respondents' efforts to define their interoperability requirements across their health community.

Eighty-four percent agreed that senior leadership understands the importance of electronic exchange of data among providers to coordinate care. And 93 percent agreed, or partially agreed, that interoperability of health information systems was one of their organization's top strategic priorities.

Yet only 54 percent said their organizations have formally assessed the degree of health information system interoperability needed across their communities, though the survey found indications that some assessment efforts are still in the planning stages.

"Failure to identify and address critical gaps could prove costly downstream as unanticipated impediments to exchanging critical information may arise for essential patient care, quality, or cost information," the report's authors write. "In some cases, these gaps could present obstacles to meeting Meaningful Use goals and in implementing an [accountable care organization]."

Indeed, a recent Black Book Rankings survey finds that just 28 percent of those organizations participating in ACOs have basic health exchange and interoperability strategies in place.

Other findings from the ECRI survey include:

  • Just 28 percent say providers not employed by their organization have remote access to their hospital's enterprise clinical information systems.
  • Only 24 percent of their organization's electronic health records electronically exchange health information with non-employed provider EHRs. Yet, Stage 2 Meaningful Use criteria will require data exchange between providers using different systems, the report points out.
  • Sixty percent of respondents say policies and procedures have been established to ensure safe and effective EHR interoperability with medical devices.

"Understanding the obstacles that lay ahead requires a proactive assessment of a hospital's interoperability needs, ultimately providing facilities with the ability to navigate through potentially costly and disruptive surprises," the report's authors write. "Gaining an understanding of medical device integration and the readiness of community providers to exchange health information are challenges waiting to be conquered."

The Black Book survey also finds that ACO participants plan to focus on local and regional exchanges for now, rather than any national exchange. With national exchange off to a slow start, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT recently tabled governance plans for the Nationwide Health Information Network, so as "not to hobble" any exchange plans already in the works.

Meanwhile, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation and Underwriters Laboratories has partnered to develop standards on the interoperability between medical devices and EHRs.

To learn more:
- read the ECRI announcement


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