What Are the Main Barriers to EHR Interoperability?
Interoperability is already revolutionizing the way we look at certain systems in healthcare.
Although it’s a game-changer, there are certain barriers preventing it from being adopted by providers around the globe — both big and small.
Below, we’ll look at five of the most common barriers to EHR interoperability. But first, let’s talk about what EHR interoperability is and why it’s beneficial to providers, physicians, and many other healthcare professionals.
What is EHR Interoperability?
As defined by HIMSS, interoperability is the ability of two or more systems to communicate.
It goes further than that, though.
Interoperability also allows these systems to seamlessly share information and interpret that information with standardized languages or formats.
EHR interoperability uses this same concept but with electronic health records. It allows multiple providers to share patient information contained in an EHR, such as medications, patient’s problem list, and any other pertinent information.
This provides many benefits to both healthcare providers and patients, including:
- Better quality care
- More efficiency
- Cost savings
- Improved research
EHR interoperability has the potential to eliminate many problems and inefficiencies in healthcare. But if that’s the case, then what barriers are preventing the healthcare system from adopting it?
6 Barriers to Achieving EHR Interoperability
There are many barriers to achieving EHR interoperability for providers across the globe, and it’s important to understand what they are.
However, there are also opportunities to overcome these barriers in certain situations.
Let’s look at six of the most common challenges.
Lack of Standardization
Standards in technology or software are important — they provide a set of rules to follow. If new technologies or software are introduced, a set of standards provides them with guidelines to continue working with their predecessors.
The same logic applies to EHR interoperability. For EHR interoperability to work across all providers, a set of standards need to be followed.
There are standards for interoperability, such as vocabulary standards, content standards, and privacy standards.
However, the problem is that not all providers are using the same standards — this leads to incompatible data formats and interpretation challenges.
Let’s look at medication history as an example. If there isn’t standardized coding for medications, errors could arise with matching drugs, such as different brand names being entered inconsistently across the systems. This could potentially lead to confusion about the patient’s medication regimen.
Solving the lack of standardization issue will require all providers to follow a specific set of standards.
EHR interoperability implementation costs are mostly a barrier to smaller practices or healthcare providers. However, for interoperability to work at its full potential, there needs to be buy-in from all practices — big and small.
There are many costs associated with the adoption of interoperable systems in healthcare, including:
- Investment in infrastructure
- Vendor costs
- Training and support for staff
- Customization expenses
There are two potential solutions to mitigate the costs of implementing interoperability.
The first is shared infrastructure (or shared instances) — a collaboration between different healthcare organizations to share resources can help reduce the cost and burden on the providers.
Next is government funding. Governments can choose to provide financial incentives or support to healthcare providers, which would allow them to implement interoperable systems with less worry.
Privacy and Security Concerns
Privacy and security concerns are an important issue — and for good reason.
Any time data is transferred between two or more systems, privacy and security concerns can arise. Since EHRs contain highly sensitive information, EHR interoperability can cause worry for both patients and providers. Patients don’t want their sensitive medical information leaked, and providers don’t want to have their systems breached.
Proper safeguards need to be in place for EHR interoperability to function properly and avoid any privacy or security breaches. Depending on the provider, this can be a common barrier to interoperability.
Solving privacy and security concerns will require providers to ensure compliance with privacy and security regulations. For example, HIPAA in the US.
It’s also crucial for providers to implement stronger security measures, such as robust encryption, access controls, and authentication.
Lastly, there’s the “EHR marketplace” concept — this would hold vendors who participate in leading EHR marketplaces up to the standards of a responsible app designation.
Differing Workflows and Processes
Providers, physicians, and other healthcare workers have processes and workflows in place that create an efficient system that they’re used to.
For some, EHR interoperability and the introduction of interoperable systems can be seen as a challenge or a barrier to overcome. It may involve learning entirely new processes, which can create inefficiencies and turn off some providers who are set in their ways.
Some providers may also see the adoption of EHR interoperability as a complex task. It will often require additional training for healthcare workers throughout the system.
Overcoming this barrier starts with workflow analysis — finding processes and areas where interoperability can be introduced with minimal disruption.
It’s also important for organizations to involve everyone in the process, from stakeholders to the healthcare providers themselves. Collaboration and input from everyone involved can help make adopting interoperable systems a much more seamless process.
Professionals in the Industry
For EHR interoperability adoption, the healthcare industry requires skilled, proficient professionals well-versed in interoperability standards and implementation practices.
Unfortunately, at the moment, there aren’t enough of these people.
Interoperability requires professionals who are subject matter experts in the EHR interoperability space. These individuals have the background and expertise to implement an integration solution within a reasonable timeframe.
Since interoperability is a relatively newer concept, this barrier is expected. The solution is a transfer of knowledge — community forms, user groups, and other places where newcomers to the industry can educate themselves. Ultimately, this barrier will take some time to overcome with boots on the ground to build the expertise.
Integrating Legacy Systems
Unfortunately, in some cases, technical challenges can be a significant barrier to EHR interoperability adoption — legacy systems being near the top of that list.
Outdated technology stacks and protocols may not be entirely compatible with interoperability standards and data exchange methods. They may also lack the application programming interfaces (APIs) necessary that are essential to interoperability.
There are some other issues that can be caused by legacy systems, including:
- Vendor-specific solutions
- Limited data capacity
- Higher maintenance costs
- Data quality concerns
To overcome this barrier, providers will need to migrate their data to a newer EHR platform that can support the adoption of interoperability. It’s a big change, but it would also provide many more benefits on top of supporting interoperability.
Looking For More Information on Interoperability?
PaceMate’s solution can help overcome the challenges and barriers associated with interoperability adoption, from integrating legacy systems to the lack of industry standardization.
Check out PaceMate’s resources today and learn more about how our solution can provide seamless interoperability adoption for the healthcare system.