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Interoperability in healthcare requires government intervention

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources offers pathways to improved data interoperability in healthcare, particularly for hospitals and health IT vendors that employ programmers seeking to access patient data.

But FHIR and other standards are not enough to achieve better interoperability; there is also a question of who has the incentives to guard patient data. For parties that own a large amount of patient data or information with the highest value, the financial incentives tend to block free data exchange among other players in the healthcare system, said Brian Murphy, director of research at Chilmark Research in an interview with SearchHealthIT editorial director Scott Wallask.

"The total problem of moving data around within a healthcare system is more than just the access to data. It's going to be an organizational interest in making that possible," Murphy said.

By the same token, since keeping patients as customers is a main concern for healthcare organizations, the development of interoperable applications seems to be a potential deterrent to hospital profits. After all, better interoperability in healthcare makes it easier for patients to move with their data from one hospital or specialist to another, which in turn brings more financial pressure to healthcare facilities.

"Until the finances work themselves out, it's unlikely that we see any explosion in new development in these kinds of [interoperability applications]," Murphy said. 

However, government intervention might spur more efforts to achieve greater interoperability in healthcare, he said. Federal officials successfully pushed healthcare systems to embrace the EHR incentive program through the HITECH Act, which drove the transition from paper healthcare records to electronic versions.

"In the absence of a government intervention, we would not have EHRs as we have them today," Murphy said. "The EHR incentive program ... put applications in the hands of people who would never have had them in a thousand years. I think that set the stage for the private sector to step up and begin to innovate."

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