MedCity Influencers, Health IT

How Healthcare Practices Can Achieve True Interoperability—And What That Means for the Business

As we shift into a modern era of healthcare, it’s becoming clear that no tool can be a one-size-fits-all solution, including most EHR systems. Supporting technology, then, needs to be implemented to ensure systems can effectively talk to one another to improve the quality of services and the performance of practices.

interoperability, rope, braid

There’s a lot of talk about efficiency in healthcare, yet, the key – interoperability – is often acknowledged and rarely executed. Not achieving true interoperability, however, has left many practices with Frankenstein-like systems that have a mind of their own. When systems are operating under different rules and speaking different languages, every single stakeholder’s experience, including patients, providers, payers, partners, and public health institutions, is impacted. Alternatively, when systems are in sync, staff work faster and smarter with fewer errors, which helps boost morale, patients can have better experiences, and the business itself will see better retention rates and supercharged profitability.

It’s due time for medical practices to refine their approach, bring together their disparate systems, and embrace the technology required for seamless interoperability.

How we got here

Historically, interoperability has been difficult to accomplish because, even if two systems speak to each other, only one of them might not speak to yet another system. Enabling connectivity between all systems is typically time and resource intensive and comes at a high cost. Their different technical specifications and capabilities can also make it difficult to share information seamlessly and in a HIPAA-compliant manner. All together, these challenges cause confusion and friction both within the systems themselves and with the experts attempting to create one cohesive solution that works for everyone.

Interestingly, the pandemic accelerated efforts toward interoperability. It became imperative to the survival of healthcare businesses, which were navigating more intensity and complexity than ever before. There was no more leeway for data errors or limitations that made it difficult to share information accurately and efficiently during that time, and many experienced some improvements to their electronic health record (EHR) functionality as a result. A report by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and KLAS Research found two-thirds of providers (67%) often or nearly always had access to needed patient records in 2020, compared to 28% four years prior.

The EHR is the central hub for storing patient data, accounting for clinical and demographic details, billing and insurance information, and more. These different business units have their own unique systems, and they all need integrations to feed into the EHR so that patient data can be easily transferred, helping to maintain systemic harmony. Though some progress has been made in recent years, there’s more work to be done. A recent Urgent Care Association benchmarking report found that nearly a quarter of respondents are looking at changing EHR solutions within the next 24 months, primarily because of the lack of features and functionality of their current system.

To create the best, most seamless patient care experiences, to best support staff with smoother workflows, and to drive revenue for the business, the tech stack needs tools that speak to each other—and the good news is that it is possible.

What true interoperability unlocks   

As we shift into a modern era of healthcare, it’s becoming clear that no tool can be a one-size-fits-all solution, including most EHR systems. Supporting technology, then, needs to be implemented to ensure systems can effectively talk to one another to improve the quality of services and the performance of practices.

Solutions today, for example, have powerful automation capabilities and integration APIs that can seamlessly transfer patient data and other information such as patient appointments to the EHR without manual entry. The technology can then automatically transfer scheduling details or other information such as registration data to the patient record. It’s all there, in one place, for each member of the care team and administration staff.

This is what true interoperability can unlock with the right technology in place:

  • Improved patient care journey: Patient data flows between the EHR and other systems so providers can easily share accurate, up-to-date information with other care team members and administrators. In fact, information sharing between systems has become so critical to the patient journey that The Cures Act established rules against information blocking (i.e., interference with the access or use of electronic health information), with some exceptions. Exchanging data between systems not only creates a more seamless patient experience but it also avoids patient data degradation. For instance, each different provider might ask the same patient the same questions, and each time, that patient likely shares different details, which could impact the consultation. In the case of an accident or personal issue, having to reshare details over and over can be incredibly difficult for them. By having systems that truly speak to each other – that allow for seamless sharing of patient records – providers and other team members can all be working from the same content and can avoid having to ask the patient redundant questions that would otherwise impact their experience.
  • Streamlined operations, increased revenue: Facilities are always seeking better margins that come from operational efficiencies as well as better experiences for patients and staff, all of which are a direct result of interoperability. One Solv customer, a large urgent care system, adopted integration solutions and experienced 52% shorter wait times in the waiting room, 11,000 staff hours saved in data entry, and 10+ hours/week that each staff member got back by avoiding manual data entry and phone scheduling. The system was able to handle a higher volume of patients because of these efficiencies, gaining 700,000 new patients across their system, which helps drive revenue.
  • Clean data for timely, more accurate payments: Interoperability yields clean data from the beginning, which saves immense amounts of time and resources that would be needed to fix errors and vastly decreases rejections and denials in the payments and claims process. If denials on certain codes do occur, the team is able to aggregate and analyze data to understand how to reduce those specific denials going forward. Armed with accurate data, facilities also can renegotiate terms with payers around metrics such as keeping patients out of the ER. Clean, better data tells a story for why the facility should be paid more every couple of years, which ultimately drives better outcomes with payers.

Interoperability is the key to facilitating organized and effective data sharing between the EHR and other information systems. It leads to maximized efficiency and increased revenue, better experiences for both patients and providers, and healthier, more resilient businesses—just a few of the many benefits. The best part is that it’s achievable today with the right strategy in place. It’s time to embrace the technology that can make this all possible.

Photo: JamesBrey, Getty Images

April Gillam is Head of Industry Relations at Solv, a national network of healthcare providers making same-day and next-day healthcare accessible to anyone. Previously the chief operating officer of a successful chain of pediatric urgent cares and telemedicine platform, she has been instrumental in scaling processes, people, and business development execution. After developing collegiate Covid-19 testing programs for the Big XII conference, American Athletic conference, and the College Football Playoff Committee in 2020, April made the transition from urgent care leadership into digital transformation leadership at Solv. She holds a seat on the Urgent Care Association Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion commission.

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