IT Evolves for True Interoperability

By Caroline Anschutz

ACOs, insurance exchanges, and acquisitions are all hot topics in 2014. To focus on a changing healthcare landscape, an IDN must run like a well-oiled machine. Automation plays a huge role in that machine, encompassing everything from electronic health records (EHRs) to asset tracking as IDNs strive to achieve Meaningful Use. But there are limits.

Providers implement EHRs and other support tools, often through multiple vendors, to automate processes and capture data. The limitation for many IDNs is that these systems are not interoperable – they don’t talk to each other. And as IDNs continue to acquire physician practices and other providers, the question becomes how to move all those facilities to a common, or at least compatible, platform.

Different approaches toward one goal
The answer to the question of interoperability appears to be two-fold. Some IDNs, such as Texas Health Resources in Arlington, elect to deploy a program or platform that unifies disparate platforms. THR selected Airstrip Technologies’ AirStrip ONE® for use throughout the system. The platform gives clinicians access to disparate data systems from multiple vendors, allowing those systems to interact with patient information both within the hospital and on mobile devices. AirStrip ONE integrates THR’s primary EMR system with various ambulatory EHRs, and PACS images from third-party sources across the enterprise.

In April 2014, SCL Health System Inc. (formerly Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health Services Corp) in Denver, Colo., selected Allscripts Healthcare Solutions’ EPSi solution to unify its disparate financial management software systems. The move standardizes its financial decision support systems onto a single, connected, and interoperable platform. The integrated, Web-based solution can aggregate data from any healthcare or business software or system.

But is this actual interoperability? More than one source, including Susan DeVore, President and CEO of Premier Inc., forecast a “Big Data Revolution” in 2014 . She sees a “provider-led” push to make application interfaces open-source so they can be used to create new programs. This would allow developers to design new programs that can make use of all data. Think of your iPhone, DeVore says – though Apple owns the operating system, anyone can design an app that delivers value to users.

Interoperability doesn’t just benefit IDNs. It is also in consumers’ best interest. In 2013, the Health Information and Managements Systems Society (HIMSS) announced that five leading EHR vendors formed a group called the CommonWell Health Alliance that, according to the Alliance’s website, “intends to be an independent, not-for-profit trade association that will support and promote the seamless interoperability of and access to patient data across the healthcare system.” The Alliance believes data should be available to both individuals and providers regardless of where care occurs, and “provider access to this data must be built-in health IT at a reasonable cost for use by a broad range of healthcare providers and the people they serve.”

In 2013, Technology Business Research Inc. reported that healthcare IT spending at large North American healthcare organizations was expected to increase to more than $34.5 billion in 2014. That’s billions of dollars on technology that may not communicate with a health system’s existing EHR or other systems. Like every facet of healthcare, information technology must be leveraged to not only be worth every dollar spent, but to produce better outcomes as well.