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6 Ways to Improve Interoperability in Healthcare

In the healthcare world, improving practices as technology and software progress is important. 

Interoperability is no different — while it’s already making strides in providing better and more efficient patient care, there is room to grow.

So, what can be done to improve interoperability in healthcare

Here are six routes to improve interoperability for providers across the board.

1. Better Access to Interoperability Information

Interoperability is a relatively new concept in the healthcare world. It has made an impact already, but there’s still information about interoperability that we don’t yet know about. 

Adopting interoperable systems means having trained and skilled professionals to ensure a seamless transition. However, since interoperability is still in its infancy, there’s a shortage of these skilled professionals within the industry.

The best way to ensure that more people can improve their interoperability knowledge is with better access to information.

For starters, opening new community forums and discussion boards — here, interoperability experts can share knowledge and content to help those without the necessary tech skills to adopt interoperable systems. 

Training will also be necessary for healthcare professionals without the necessary expertise. Access to the training for interoperable systems can help promote a more seamless adoption of the technology — staff can get to know the vendors, partners, and workflows associated with EHR interoperability.

This will take some time. However, with more trained, collaborative, and knowledgeable professionals, the healthcare industry and patients will reap the benefits.

2. Adopting Universal Interoperability Standards

Interoperability standards already exist — in fact, there are five different categories:

  • Terminology standards
  • Content standards
  • Transport standards
  • Privacy and security standards
  • Identifier standards

Here’s the thing — within each of these categories exist several different standards, and not every provider is using the same ones. 

For example, terminology standards include protocols like Current Procedural Terminology (CPT), ICD-10, and the National Drug Code (NDC)

The goal of interoperability is to put everyone on the same page and allow systems to communicate properly. Data-sharing is a central part of this. However, even with data standards, data formats can cause issues. For example, one system may use a middle initial for a patient, another may use a middle name, while a third has no field for a patient’s middle name. These small formatting issues can result in disparate data. 

However, if everyone is using different standards, this isn’t possible. 

To improve interoperability, a single set of standards needs to be laid out for providers from top to bottom.

That way, all healthcare providers, from primary physicians to pharmacists, can take advantage of the benefits that interoperability provides and avoid losing time with manual input errors. 

3. Shared Infrastructure For Cost Burdens

Whether it’s a larger healthcare center or a smaller practice, one thing rings true.

Interoperability costs can pile up — from investment in infrastructure to maintenance and beyond. 

To improve interoperability in healthcare, we need to lessen the burden on healthcare providers. 

Government funding to healthcare providers through incentives is one way to reduce costs for patients and healthcare providers.

For example, in April of 2023, the AACC released a statement urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fund pilot programs for interoperability.

But getting government funding is never an easy process, and businesses can also do their part to achieve the greater good in improving patient care. 

One way this can be done is through shared infrastructure or shared instances. This is essentially a collaborative effort between healthcare providers at all different levels to share their resources, lowering individual costs while furthering common goals.

4. Workflow Analysis

The implementation of interoperable systems can shake up healthcare providers’ current processes and workflows.  Since most providers have workflows and systems in place already, adding a new concept can throw a wrench in the efficiencies created by these systems. 

If we want interoperability to work at the highest level, we need to identify improvements with workflow analysis.

A workflow analysis is a way to find areas where we can increase efficiency and introduce interoperability with as little disruption as possible to the current workflow.

It starts by documenting the current processes within the organization, mapping out the workflow to identify any potential bottlenecks, and identifying the pain points that interoperability can solve. 

From there, workflow analysis will involve redesigning certain workflows to incorporate interoperable systems.

Workflow analysis also involves constant improvement — providers must continuously monitor performance, collect feedback, and make tweaks to create the most efficient processes possible.

5. Adopting Newer EHR Technology

Interoperability can, unfortunately, pose certain technical challenges for providers using older EHR platforms. Outdated tech stacks are often not completely compatible with the latest interoperability standards.

One of the best ways to improve interoperability is to adopt newer EHR technologies that are designed to properly implement interoperability with little resistance. 

For example, cloud-based EHRs offer seamless integration with various data sources like clinical, laboratory, and pharmacy systems, enabling robust interoperability among these systems.

Users of cloud-based EHRs have the flexibility to store their data on distributed servers spanning multiple geographic locations, streamlining data storage and retrieval. These systems also boast robust security measures, safeguarding data against cyber threats and unauthorized access.

Though it’s a big change, providers can truly take advantage of everything that interoperability offers by migrating to newer EHR technologies.

6. Stronger Cybersecurity Features

With security and privacy being at the forefront of the concerns with interoperability, we need to solve this issue for interoperability to work at the highest level.

According to a report by IT Governance, there were 213 disclosed cyber incidents in 2022 – making up one of every five cyber security incidents they discovered that year.

There are a few ways we can improve security and privacy in interoperability.

The first is with stronger security measures — for example, authentication controls, robust encryption, and access controls.

There’s also the concept of the “EHR marketplace”. This would hold all vendors participating in the leading EHR marketplaces up to the standards of a responsible app designation. 

It is also imperative to train staff on cybersecurity best practices. People think it’s easy to spot a phishing email, yet many still fall for them. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, the biggest threat to cyber protection is human error, which accounts for over 80% of cyber incidents.

PaceMate Can Help Improve Interoperability

PaceMate’s solution overcomes barriers and improves the experience for interoperable systems at every level. 

Check out PaceMate’s resources today and learn more about how our solution improves interoperability.

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