Lack of interoperability stalls progress

February 6, 2014 in Medical Technology

There’s little arguing that drastic improvement to healthcare data interoperability is necessary. It’s not just electronic health records, either, but also the range of technologies spanning from personal medical devices to massive information systems.

Health networks and physician practices have the most to gain from an interoperable ecosystem and, it follows, the most to lose if it doesn’t go right.

But one could argue that American patients and taxpayers stand to gain or lose just as much — especially the next generation of patients and taxpayers, the kids, tweens, teens and 20-somethings who for the most part have not known a world without the benefits and efficiency of the Internet and a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

“The lack of interoperability is sapping efficiency and enthusiasm from nurses and doctors,” said Michael Schatzlein, MD, the head of Tennessee and Indiana markets for Ascension Health, the nation’s largest Catholic healthcare system, and the CEO of Saint Thomas Health in Nashville, at Health Care Innovation Day in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

[See also: DeSalvo: Interoperability ‘top priority’.]

Interoperability issues are holding Robert Wood Johnson University Health System in New Brunswick, N.J. back from a lot of things, according to CEO Stephen Jones.

RWJU hospitals all have one main EHR, for instance, between health information exchange connections and specialty and department systems. “We need dozens and dozens of interfaces,” Jones said. “We spend a bundle of money, millions and millions.”

[See also: Stage set for big interoperability push.]

Glenn Tobin, CEO of the Advisory Board Company’s Crimson division said that one metric of interoperability success will be its affordability.

“If you could drop the cost of interoperability by one order of magnitude, two orders of magnitude or three magnitudes,” Tobin continued, “so many more things would be possible because you would take the cost out of the system.”

And there’s more at stake than money.

If the problem of health information system and device interoperability is not fixed, say over the next decade, according to Michael Johns, MD, chairman of the Center for Medical Interoperability, a nonprofit created by the Gary and Mary West Foundation, “our children [will be] looking back and wondering ‘What was wrong with those people?

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