Is Healthcare IT Interoperability (Almost) Here?
Thousands of EHR systems crowd the market. Few are even integrated, let alone interoperable. But five of the largest EHR vendors have formed an alliance committed to interoperability, and a second, community-driven interoperability effort is also underway. The government is looking for ideas, too. Will this finally get things moving?
Mon, April 15, 2013
CIO — This year's Health Information and Managements Systems Society's HIMSS13 conference began with a shocker: The announcement that five leading electronic health record (EHR) vendors were forming a group called the CommonWell Health Alliance that would promote "seamless interoperability" of healthcare data.
HIMSS13 also saw the announcement of The CURE Project, an interoperability initiative started by New Health Networks to put to task the healthcare community, not vendors or the federal government, to help define interoperability standards for healthcare applications that capture, update, report and exchange information.
There's also the imPatient Movement, an effort among NoMoreClipboard.com, Microsoft HealthVault and Indiana Health Information Technology to encourage patients to use an interoperable personal health record and providers to use the data in that PHR to improve care.
With a lack of interoperability standing as an obstacle to improving patient care—and reducing the estimated $750 billion in annual unnecessary healthcare spending in the United States—will parallel interoperability initiatives help or hurt the industry?
Vendor Interoperability Pledge Met With Skepticism
While industry observers noted that an EHR vendor interoperability pledge is better than no interoperability at all, reaction to the CommonWell announcement was, in a word, skeptical. (It didn't help that Epic Systems, arguably an EHR market leader, is not part of CommonWell.)
- Consultant and blogger Anne Zieger referred to it as an interoperability scheme, though she admitted, "the more data sharing the better, particularly by major players with significant market share."
- Dr. Adrian Gropper, CTO of Patient Privacy Rights, called it a shame and a missed opportunity— a shame because "another program with opaque governance by the largest incumbents in health IT is being passed off as progress" and a missed opportunity because it doesn't involve physicians or patients.
- Dan Munro, founder and CEO of iPatient, expressed concern that publicly traded companies—with boards of directors and shareholders to please and quarterly objectives to meet—"don't make good candidates for lean, rapid and disruptive technical innovation."
- Jon Mertz, vice president of marketing for Corepoint Health, put it simply when he asked, what took so long?
That's why the men behind the CURE Project—Steven E. Waldren, M.D., senior strategist with the American Academy of Family Physicians and Robert L. Brown, vice president of professional services, Mosaica Partners—say interoperability will come only with what Brown describes as a "large-scale specifications development project."
Back in 2004, President George W. Bush called for widespread adoption of electronic health records. Rather than take the opportunity to recast the EHR system in the context of interacting with patients at the point of care, to make EHR less obtrusive and more efficient, the industry instead went full steam ahead, building hundreds of standalone systems the create and maintain EHRs, Brown says.