Breaking down barriers to connected health
What is interoperability?
The concept of interoperability is simple: it is designing disparate sources of data and information to work together. Interoperability is how travel planning sites such as Expedia are able to seamlessly pull in information from airlines, hotels and other sources to provide users with easy access to information from multiple sources.
While the concept of interoperability is simple, its application in health care is much more complex. That’s because it requires information—such as patient data from multiple doctors and health care settings—to be connected in a standardized way. However, doing so requires the collaboration of a range of people who all play a role in a disjointed health care delivery system.
Why is interoperability in health care important?
If realized to its full potential, a truly connected health care system would ensure health care data is available regardless of the setting and reaches patients and medical professionals at the point of care, where it is needed most.
It is also critical to patient safety. Currently, one hospital’s electronic medical record system may not be compatible with the electronic records in a doctor’s office or pharmacy. A patient could have a dangerous reaction to a new medication if the hospital or pharmacy does not have important information regarding allergies, other prescription medicines or chronic conditions.
What steps can be taken to break down barriers to interoperability?
Even in this age of technology at our fingertips, several barriers still prevent the easy flow and integration of health care data among patients, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and insurance companies.
However, important steps are being taken to remove these obstacles. The White House recently brought together information technology developers from across the country to advance its “Blue Button 2.0” initiative, a program that allows Medicare beneficiaries to download, save and share personal health information so they can be active partners in their own health care. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and several Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies—together with providers, health information technology vendors and key government agencies—are working with the Da Vinci Project to improve data sharing in value-based care arrangements, with the goal of developing a model that can be implemented on a national level.
Will interoperability improve quality and lower costs?
Interoperability has the potential to do both. In patient-focused care arrangements, for example, teams of health care professionals across different care facilities and specialties leverage data to determine which treatment approaches yield the best outcomes for patients. This in turn lowers costs by helping patients avoid unnecessary procedures and emergency room visits, better manage chronic conditions, and get healthy faster while staying healthy longer.