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Read full post: What is EHR Interoperability & Why Is It Important?

What is EHR Interoperability & Why Is It Important?

Over the past few decades, healthcare records have moved to digital — nearly 9 in 10 office-based physicians in the US have adopted some form of electronic health records, or EHRs.

But is it enough? Can more be done to provide better patient care with regard to EHRs?


With EHR interoperability, patients can receive better care.


Below, we’ll define EHR interoperability, outline its benefits, and present potential challenges.

What is EHR Interoperability?

Interoperability, as defined by HIMSS, is the ability of two or more systems, applications, devices, or software to exchange, access, and cooperate with data. 

Interoperability in healthcare looks at how to connect several healthcare systems together with seamless data sharing and interpretation — specifically to provide better care to patients. 

Specific to EHRs, interoperability allows patient information from the EHRs to be shared among different healthcare providers. This includes:

  • Patient medical history
  • Medication records
  • Diagnoses
  • Allergies
  • Immunization dates
  • And anything else found on an EHR

Levels of EHR Interoperability

Not all interoperability is equal. There are three levels of EHR interoperability, with each one building on concepts developed by the previous level:


  • Foundational interoperability - Different systems can share data with each other. However,  the receiving system doesn’t have the ability to interpret the data. Instead, third-party technology or software is necessary to translate the data to the right format. 
  • Structural interoperability - Building on foundational interoperability, structural interoperability defines the format, syntax, and organization of the data. This makes Interpreting data easier, but it may still require specialized instructions to work properly.
  • Semantic interoperability - This is where you achieve full interoperability. Systems can share and exchange data while interpreting it at the highest level. 

Examples of EHR Interoperability

Here are a few examples of EHR interoperability in action:


  • Patient data exchange - The most common example of EHR interoperability, patient data exchange allows many different providers involved in the care of a patient to seamlessly access up-to-date information on their patient.
  • Telemedicine - EHR interoperability makes virtual appointments easier than ever, allowing telemedicine platforms access to patient information. The primary care specialist can view and access their medical history, lab results, and more. 
  • Pharmacy integration - With EHR interoperability, healthcare providers can electronically send “e-prescriptions” to pharmacists, which can make everything easier for prescribing medicine. 

The Benefits of EHR Interoperability

So, what is it that makes EHR interoperability beneficial for the healthcare industry?


Improved Patient Care

EHR interoperability allows providers to access real-time data on their patients. 


But how is this any different from accessing an EHR themselves?


Interoperable EHRs mean that, for patients who see multiple providers, all of the data is easily accessible regardless of how many providers are involved. 


For example, let’s take a scenario where a patient has diabetes and visits their primary care physician for a routine check-up. 


With EHR interoperability, The primary care physician has access to a system that connects with other healthcare providers and facilities involved in the patient's care, such as an endocrinologist, a nutritionist, and a pharmacy.


EHR interoperability allows the primary care physician to provide the best possible treatment to the patient. They have comprehensive patient information and timely updates on the patient at their fingertips.


Efficient and Timely Care

Healthcare can often be made more efficient. With better efficiency, more patients can be seen in a shorter window, and patients being treated can receive more timely care.


EHR interoperability allows providers to access patient information quicker and all in one place. 

Again, for patients who see multiple providers, it can be tough to gather all of the patient’s information, from medications to past medical history and beyond. You’ll be relying on either the patient remembering everything or searching for the information from other providers yourself.


EHR interoperability can eliminate healthcare delays, redundant tests, and make healthcare more efficient overall. It can also help doctors prioritize the right patients in emergency situations.


Cost Savings

With 25% of healthcare costs coming from administrative sources, it’s important to find ways to cut down on costs while still providing the best possible care to patients. 


EHR interoperability has the potential to eliminate much of the administrative overhead, including manual data entry, faxing, and sharing paper-based records. 


It can also reduce the amount of redundant testing, which can be an issue when providers don’t have all the information they need to provide care.


Improved Research Capabilities

Beyond patient care, EHR interoperability can also advance research capabilities in healthcare. 


By promoting data sharing and collaboration among healthcare providers, researchers, and institutions, interoperability has the potential to transform medical research in several ways.


For example, two common barriers to medical research involve manually transcribing records and dealing with incompatible data formats. Both of these factors can slow down research.


With EHR interoperability, researchers no longer have to deal with these barriers since data collection and sharing are streamlined. This allows projects to proceed more efficiently and quickly.


Scalability and Future Proofing

Healthcare technology, software, and standards are all evolving rapidly — remaining ahead of the curve can be a challenge for some providers. 


EHR interoperability helps providers adapt to their new surroundings. For example, standards for data exchange, such as HL7 FHIR, are constantly evolving. Fully interoperable systems can easily adopt these new standards as they’re finalized, which allows for better communication and data interpretation between systems. 


It also provides a better user experience once providers are used to the system itself. User-friendly interfaces can be customized as needed to meet the needs of providers and patients.


EHR Interoperability Challenges

Despite providing several benefits to the healthcare industry, there are a few challenges that EHR interoperability faces before becoming universally adopted.


Here are three of the most common challenges.


Lack of a Standardized Data Structure

Although many EHR interoperability standards exist, different providers will use different sets of standards or formats for their EHRs. There isn’t currently a specific set of standards for EHRs in place for providers across the country, which can still create confusion even with EHR interoperability adoption.


Higher Implementation Costs

This is a challenge that is more specific to smaller healthcare providers or practices, but for interoperability to work at its full potential, there needs to be buy-in from the top down.

For smaller providers, the costs of implementing full EHR interoperability can be a challenge. These costs can include everything from software updates to staff training to maintenance and beyond.


Patient Information Security

Patient information security is always a concern for both patients themselves and providers. 

Since the nature of EHR interoperability involves sharing patient information across many different providers, this process can raise some privacy and security concerns. It’s important for providers to comply with HIPAA privacy regulations, but this can potentially be resource-intensive — especially for smaller providers. 


Despite its challenges, the benefits of EHR interoperability far outweigh the challenges. Many interoperable systems are already implementing ways to overcome these barriers!


Looking For More Information on Interoperability?

If you’re looking for more information on EHR interoperability, we have answers.


PaceMate’s resources section includes material on EHR interoperability, remote monitoring, and much more. 


Check out PaceMate’s resources and learn more about how EHR interoperability works today.

Learn More About EHR Interoperability

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