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ONC, EHR vendors step up to fight interoperability challenges

While the majority of physicians and hospitals use certified EHRs, the lack of national interoperability standards impedes the flow of health information exchange.

It is hard to contest the progress that has been made since the enactment of the HITECH Act of 2009. The rate of digitization of patient charts across hospitals and physician practices has been surreal, and most agree that the shift away from paper-based health records was a long needed change. However, while nearly eight in 10 physicians use certified EHRs, there are still some significant interoperability challenges that need to be addressed before anyone can claim victory.

Based on the statistics released by the CDC regarding the current adoption rate of EHRs, as well as the high number of electronic data exchanges performed by hospital systems, many healthcare organizations have gained a number of efficiencies and improved patient care.  Positive results include reduced readmissions, fewer prescription errors and reduced adverse events for some patients, to name a few.

As the next few years continue to see a shift from the fee-for-service payment model toward an improved outcome-based model, the need for better care coordination and health information exchange is key. In their early stages of care coordination, physicians have recognized and experienced first-hand the dire need for ease of data exchange and care coordination capabilities within their systems. Despite the progress that hospitals have made in leveraging integrated systems, those who are running different EHR systems that are not always connected to the larger hospital systems still face interoperability challenges.

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics

Check out the data brief on EHR adoption provided on the CDC's website: Adoption of Certified Electronic Health Record Systems and Electronic Information Sharing in Physician Offices: United States, 2013 and 2014

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and many of its partners have recognized the importance of interoperability of health information, and as a result there have been a number of efforts made toward achieving those goals. It all starts with the creation of a robust national standard for interoperability, discouraging data blocking practices by EHR vendors, and supplying the marketplace with tools and business cases for interoperability.

Many of the top EHR vendors -- such as Cerner, AllScripts, EPIC and others who supply 90% of health records used by hospitals nationwide -- have pledged publicly to support the ONC's vision for the seamless flow of electronic health information for all. The pledge consists of three commitments by these organizations:

  • To empower patients through electronic access to their health records
  • To eliminate potential roadblocks in the way of the exchange of health information
  • To implement national interoperability standards, policies, guidance and practices for electronic health records

There is plenty of work ahead for EHR vendors, policy makers and health organizations to create a health system that can deliver better patient care, lower costs and improved safety. Everyone will have a role to play in solving interoperability challenges. But with many of the political changes and uncertainties facing the nation, some are concerned about how to ensure that current policies will remain in place.

Next Steps

To achieve interoperability in healthcare, better standards are needed

FHIR emerging as an interoperability standard

CIOs discuss lack of interoperability between EHRs

This was last published in October 2016

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