Chasing health IT interoperability

HIMSS Media and Hyland Healthcare recently conducted a survey of more than 145 healthcare professionals to gain a deeper understanding of their health IT interoperability progress and challenges. We visually documented the results in an infographic, and provided analysis of the research in an in-depth whitepaper.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised by the results. On the surface, respondents were more positive about their interoperability status than I expected. For example, 74 percent of survey respondents overall rated their organization’s efforts to improve interoperability as “excellent” or “good.” This is much higher than I anticipated given how outspoken industry leaders have been at conferences, ONC round tables and in the media regarding the interoperability shortcomings that exist in healthcare.

However, this statistic makes more sense when you compare the perceptions of IT professionals with those of clinicians. While 78 percent of IT leaders ranked their organization’s interoperability efforts as “good” or “excellent,” only 48 percent of clinicians felt the same.

Perception matters

This is not surprising given that IT and clinicians may perceive the same interoperability advancements differently, as Mari Greenberger, senior director of Informatics, Technology and Innovation at HIMSS, states in the whitepaper. For example, IT may view data interoperability frameworks as an enhancement, while clinicians may view them as distracting or disruptive to their workflows.

In other words, while interoperability advancements are being made from a technical standpoint, many fail to have the desired impact on the clinicians who interact with these systems day in and day out. This reality flies in the face of the top goal of interoperability identified by respondents. Overall, 68 percent of those surveyed said “optimizing clinical workflows” was the top driver for health IT interoperability.

It’s clear we still have a long way to go in this regard, but Greenberger is optimistic that the maturation of open data standards such as Health Level Seven’s (HL7) Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR), will help streamline clinical workflows by facilitating data consolidation and exchange.

enterprise medical imagingHIE and enterprise imaging bring unstructured data into view

The research was also clear that healthcare providers aren’t waiting for universal industry standards to pave the way for their own interoperability. Most are taking matters into their own hands by adopting technology strategies specifically designed to enhance health data interoperability within the enterprise and beyond.

Leveraging an electronic health information exchange (HIE), natural language processing and voice recognition technologies, moving to a single EMR platform and adopting an enterprise imaging strategy were the top initiatives mentioned by respondents.

The primary focus of most of these initiatives is to help healthcare providers gain better visibility and control of the unstructured patient content that exists throughout their facilities. Unlike the structured information EMR systems are inherently designed to manage (i.e. character-based discrete data fields), unstructured information (e.g. clinical documents and progress notes, medical images, etc.) generally reside in multiple systems outside the EMR. Much of this content is clinically relevant, but largely invisible in context of the patient record.

Industry analysts suggest as much as 80 percent of patient information is unstructured in nature and 56 percent of our survey respondents said “managing unstructured data” was the “key obstacle” to improving interoperability and delivering a more connected care experience.

How do your interoperability efforts compare with those of your peers? I invite you to review all of the research presented in our infographic and whitepaper and respond with your own take in the comments section below.

Ken Congdon has expertise in the healthcare technology industry and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.
Ken Congdon

Ken Congdon

Ken Congdon has expertise in the healthcare technology industry and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.

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