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Does perception equal reality when it comes to health data interoperability?

Woman holding two fish over her eyes

Answer: not necessarily.

Since the advent of Meaningful Use, the industry’s perception about interoperability has shifted. Six years ago, the common view was that healthcare software vendors – EHRs or other enterprise-level applications – were not interoperable and, therefore, separate islands of data. While not entirely fair at the time given the early stage of adoption throughout the industry, that viewpoint was pretty much accurate.

Things have shifted (or perhaps snowballed) from the every EHR is an island view to something along the lines of: vendors are holding health data hostage on their private island, preventing escape. This perception of active patient data blocking by EHR vendors has even made its way to Capitol Hill on multiple occasions. Read Allscripts CEO Paul Black Says Congressional Spotlight on Data Blocking Has ‘Changed Business Practices Overnight [2]’ in Healthcare Informatics.

There is a major difference between the two viewpoints. Today’s assumption of active data blocking shows a more optimistic view of interoperability. 2017 perception says that data needs to leave the island – and can actually do so if it wasn’t being blocked by vendors. This shows that industry observers are beginning to realize that data interoperability is possible and actually happening across the country.

This is a sign of progress for those of us who work in health data exchange – we’re always hoping for an opportunity to discuss what is being done and what can be done in terms of data exchange. Here at Corepoint, we’re aware that practically every advanced health IT department has an integration engine [3] in place and every day we see innovative approaches to interoperability thanks to our customers.

What are the next steps needed to move the interop-perception discussion forward? Would pessimists believe the new narrative even when presented with proof?

As the Allscripts CEO said at HIMSS, vendors are moving forward by implementing FHIR [4] and employing open APIs [5] for data exchange. Do we still need the government’s carrot-and-stick approach of Meaningful Use to force compliance?

Perhaps the country’s most respected CIO, John Halamaka, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, offered his suggestions for a way forward in an article he wrote for healthsystemcio.com titled, Next Steps For The National Healthcare IT Agenda [6]. Here are his thoughts on interoperability:

Regulation and mandates aren’t the answer for health data interoperability

Recognize that information flows best when there is a business case for doing so, not a government mandate. Well-intended government attempts to mandate interoperability have led to unintended consequences that stifle innovation. In other sectors like finance or travel, market dynamics serve as a sufficient driver for information fluidity; policy frequently impedes such a reality in healthcare. should set the conditions for private sector-led interoperation efforts — the private sector has and will continue to make tremendous progress to bring seamless information exchange to healthcare. When interoperability is essential to the success of health systems and medical practices, market forces will deliver robust solutions that increase the utility and value of information exchange.

Is value-based care the business case needed to supercharge interoperability? Or, perhaps, we’ll continue with a follow-the-leader approach, as the more connected hospitals and systems continue to thrive thanks to an interoperable data foundation, and others will follow their lead.

Innovative minds flock to technology because there are few limits to what is possible. We’ll continue to provide the best platform, features, and tools so our customers can continue to move the industry forward.