State of health IT interoperability: An upward climb

Healthcare organizations are working toward improving interoperability--and know it is vital to their survival and growth in the evolving healthcare market, according to a new HIMSS Analytics report, released at the organization's annual conference this week.

In the report, a focus group of hospital and health system executives identified key interoperability trends and discussed barriers to sharing information with other organizations.

One of the biggest: the inability of some statewide health information exchanges (HIEs) to accept certain data sets that hospitals are required to provide under Meaningful Use.

One Midwestern hospital that participated in the focus group had that very problem.

"The state cannot do anything with this information, yet it's a requirement of Meaningful Use that we exchange them," the hospital's CIO said, according to the report. "Instead of buying an MRI, we are going to have to spend money on something that is not going to be used because we have to check off a box" under Meaningful Use criteria.

States are making slow progress with interoperability, the report notes. Government initiatives are helping, but true interoperability will take years.

Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health IT, has said interoperability will inspire trust and confidence in the public and empower consumers to be more engaged in their care

It's not just the basics, DeSalvo said, but also a matter of figuring out how to achieve interoperability with the never-ending onslaught of new medical devices. Creativity, innovation and consensus will be key.

Consolidation plays a role, too. As the report notes, mergers and acquisitions are a key part of hospitals' strategies for sharing data and staying competitive.

State and region-wide health information exchanges (HIEs) are another key towards building interoperability the report outlines. But alarm bells have been ringing about HIE sustainability and interoperability woes.

"Despite the challenges, hospitals understand that their ability to exchange patient data will help them deliver on the promise of healthcare reform--empowering them to make better clinical decisions in real time at the point of care, improve the quality of care in an efficient and effective manner, and generate better health outcomes," the report concludes.

To learn more:
- read the report

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