Interoperability: It's not just 'nerd talk'

If the healthcare industry is going to achieve the triple aim, systems must be able to share data, industry experts said today at the AHIP Institute Data Analytics Forum in Seattle. Interoperability, they agreed, must be ubiquitous.

"The time has come for us--payers and providers--to stand and tell the vendors that interoperability is where it's at," said Kevin Fickenscher, M.D., chief medical officer of New York-based AMC Health. With interoperability, payers and providers can share data and use it to reduce the cost of care and deliver better outcomes.

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Eric Larson, M.D., vice president for research at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, added that interoperability will improve research and population health in addition to patient care.

The panelists also called for open-source capability for big data use. Fickenscher said that issue needs to move from "a nerd discussion" to a conversation among the entire healthcare community.

But as health insurers and providers use interoperability and open-source capabilities to make big data more effective and powerful, they will face challenges around outdated regulations.

"We need policies and changes that will give us direction of what's right and what we can do, because the potential is huge," Larson said.

Inderpal Bhandari, Ph.D., chief data officer at Cambia Health Solutions, a nonprofit health insurance corporation based in Portland, Oregon, said the field of big data is evolving so rapidly that regulators can't keep up.

For example, Bhandari said, retailers can use non-personal health information data, such as what a person shops for, to infer medical conditions, "which is about as PHI [personal health information] as you can get."  

Overcoming big data challenges will enable payers and providers to compare disparate pieces of data to make better business decisions, enhance the consumer experience and uncover new care patterns. "That technology capability is coming from the private sector to healthcare," Fickenscher said.

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