By Tim Kaschinske, HealthStore® Product Manager at BridgeHead Software

Analytics and data interoperability are hot topics in healthcare today. However, defining and implementing effective interoperability standards for healthcare data remains a challenge because there is a tendency to frame the problem in abstract terms like needing to “break down data silos”—which sounds great in theory but is ambiguous in practice. To achieve real interoperability in healthcare, we need to think outside the silo.

How “Data Silos” Became A Catch-All Buzzword for Interoperability Issues

There are multiple different types of silos within healthcare organizations. For example, a cardiology department might have all of its data in one system, with little or no access to other departments’ files. If a cardiologist needs the latest chest x-ray for one of their patients, they might not be able to easily pull the images and data from the radiology department’s system. These issues frequently come up when a patient visits multiple facilities during a particular episode of care. Differences in patient recordkeeping and medical coding practices can make even seemingly simple tasks into complicated maneuvers. In a particularly bad case, you might have a situation like this: to enable the next step in a patient’s care while complying with privacy regulations, the staff at one clinic end up printing out the results of an x-ray or other test, then faxing the material to another department or clinic, where it must be scanned and loaded into a different EMR system. Without interoperable data elements that can move smoothly between different systems, departments and facilities, there’s often no efficient way to exchange information or even conduct simple communications to coordinate patient care. This lack of interoperability can disrupt or delay vital procedures, and even put patients’ health at risk if important information is not communicated properly. In today’s complex, interconnected healthcare system, a huge number of patients see more than one care provider on a regular basis. Tests and procedures are also frequently completed at third-party facilities after a patient’s original hospital or clinic visit. In an increasingly decentralized network with so many different moving parts, effective communication and interoperable medical records are critical to delivering high-quality care and achieving positive outcomes.

The True Meaning of Interoperability for Healthcare Data

In the same way that “data silos” has become a broad term for issues with communication and information sharing, “interoperability” is often discussed as a catch-all solution to these problems. Defining interoperability standards for healthcare data has been challenging because of the sheer volume of information, the variety of different data silos that exist, and regulatory restrictions on the storage and use of patient data. For data to be truly interoperable, it needs to be in a format and system that enable direct, apples-to-apples exchanges between all concerned parties. Even if two care providers use the same EMR system or standards, other factors can still complicate communication and care coordination. For example, if two clinics use different codes for a chest x-ray, they don’t have fully interoperable data, because a physician at one clinic might search a patient’s history based on their own coding practices and end up missing a procedure done at another clinic. This can be a particular concern when consolidating patient information after a merger or acquisition.

Why Real Interoperability Is More Urgent Than Ever

healthcare-interoperabilityHealth Information Management is an increasingly important concern at all levels of healthcare, and there are several reasons why interoperability has become more urgent in recent years. Of course, HIM has significant impacts on both the delivery of care to patients and on the provider’s bottom line because of the direct effect of medical claim coding on billing and reimbursement. Pain points related to data silos and lack of interoperability have also intensified as a result of industry consolidation and mandates such as HIPAA and GDPR.

In addition to these market and regulatory pressures, new opportunities created by technological developments are also driving demand for interoperable patient data. Specifically, hospitals and health systems are eyeing major opportunities in data analytics and collaboration in the cloud. Data interoperability is a critical pre-requisite for taking advantage of these extremely promising technologies.

How HealthStore Enables Rapid Integration and Interoperability

HealthStore® is BridgeHead’s Independent Clinical Repository. By creating a single repository for all existing clinical and administrative data sources and integrating with networks such as CommonWell and CareQuality, HealthStore facilitates data interoperability across the entire healthcare enterprise.

In a recent implementation for Harrison Memorial Hospital, HealthStore enabled an organization with six previously siloed clinics to achieve immediate interoperability across all departments and facilities. By extracting data from each clinic into a single repository and implementing a new EMR system with interoperability standards, physicians at each clinic gained powerful new tools for accessing clinical records, collaborating across physical and digital divides, and delivering exceptional care to every patient. Now, Harrison Memorial is looking at ways to extend interoperability even further to support strategic initiatives and improve collaboration with other providers.

As global trends in industry consolidation and regulation continue to drive the need for interoperability, HIM groups and health IT executives will need to address a wide range of concerns around the security of patient information, the needs of clinical professionals, and the cost-effectiveness of different technologies. HealthStore enables users to enjoy the immediate benefits of interoperable data while building a foundation for long-term success in a challenging and rapidly evolving HIM environment.

Tim has been with BridgeHead Software for over 7 years, but has over 20 years’ experience in healthcare and data management. His responsibilities include listening to and understanding the challenges of hospitals, finding innovative ways to help solve their complex data management problems, all in a bid to support better healthcare delivery and make a positive impact in people’s lives. Tim has had senior roles in technology and development in organizations such as: Symantec, Agfa and Mitra Corporation prior to BridgeHead Software.
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