(Image courtesy of Rich Anderson via Flickr)

Last Friday, five Dallas-area hospital CIOs were guest panelists for a luncheon hosted by DFW HIMSS. The CIOs were invited to discuss strategic initiatives and various topics relevant to healthcare IT.

The packed event took place in a meeting space at Globe Life Park at Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers baseball team, which overlooked the baseball diamond. Panelists included: Aaron Miri from Walnut Hill Medical Center, Matthew Chambers from Baylor Scott & White Health, Joey Sudomir from Texas Health Resources, Leah Miller from HCA North Texas, and moderator Melinda Costin from JPS Health Network.

The conversation led to some interesting perspectives on healthcare interoperability.

in the industry today is a complex and widely discussed initiative. Although internal and external integration come with quite a few challenges – many falling outside the provider’s control – the panel was keen to communicate that interoperability is necessary for patient care and a significant responsibility for CIOs. Each panelist emphasized that providing a convenient and holistic experience for the patient were top goals, underlining the need for disruptive change in our current interoperability capabilities.

The discussion covered the importance of interoperability, key challenges to getting there, and details on how they are accomplishing those goals today.

Aaron Miri, CIO of Walnut Hill Medical Center located in Dallas, defined interoperability as “Switching data from systems with no extra cost.” He gave the example of his daughter downloading a movie on an iPad, then being able to access the same movie on multiple platforms with the ease of simply opening up a variety of other apps for free. Miri, along with the rest of the panel, questioned why healthcare doesn’t have the same degree of interoperability as seen in other industries, such as banking.

How is it fair to be in a different country and not even have access to your health record?

In the financial industry, a consumer can go half way around the world and draw money from their bank account without trouble. The bank knows of the charge almost immediately, and the patient can track all their financial history right from a mobile device.

In healthcare, patients cannot gain access to past procedures and medical records without considerable difficulty. Patients have to work hard to get their medical history to a different county, assuming they can scramble together all their disparate records. Finances are important, but healthcare affects our lifespan.

Matthew Cambers, CIO at Baylor Scott & White Health, admitted to this gap in technology by stating, “The healthcare system is fundamentally broken.”

He proceeded to discuss the importance of holistic care, emphasizing the need of interoperability as a piece of the puzzle in providing a great experience for patients before, during, and after their hospital visit.

All agreed about the massive benefits of interoperability, but what’s keeping us from solving the problem?

According to Joey Sudomir, CIO of Texas Health Resources, “The first challenge (of interoperability) is competition. We cannot be silent as organizations, it’s not what patients need. We, as CIOs, need to work with others to serve our patients, so they can go anywhere in the metroplex. The first in Texas was shaky. We have to start internally and create the culture and opportunity.”

Miri followed, “There are different appetites to share data. The CIO’s role is educating those who are fearful about information sharing. Interoperability is vital, and it’s up to us to educate.”

The CIOs focused on how they plan to solve these challenges and didn’t spend much time discussing why interoperability is lacking.

Miller, CIO of NCA North Texas Division, brought up an issue common to many provider stories by questioning how others “balance a lack of maturity in integration with your own systems, and integrating externally. Internal is already big challenge.”

Chambers responded from experience, “Take care of patients first. If you have disparate systems that take a while, fix those inside your walls first. Then look at outside models.”

The participants discussed what is next in integration strategy, including specifics of what they are accomplishing with modern integration technologies.

Walnut Hill is experimenting with and open APIs and gave an example of a current project integrating smart devices into their . With the availability of FHIR, RESTful web services, and open APIs, connecting applications is becoming easier as use cases expand.

For more information about how Corepoint Health customers have accomplished internal and external interoperability, download our companion pieces produced in partnership with HIMSS Media:

1. Integration Engines: Conquering Interoperability Challenges

2. Southcoast Health Case Study

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