As the need to integrate electronic health records (EHR) and new medical devices has taken hold across the United States, healthcare interoperability has become more important than ever before. For organizations looking for help or guidance with this important task, here’s a look at how to achieve interoperability in healthcare with the help of telehealth tools like remote patient monitoring (RPM).
What is interoperability in healthcare, and why is it important?
So, what is interoperability in healthcare, exactly, and why is it important? In its simplest terms, healthcare interoperability refers to the ability to easily exchange data among different parties in the care continuum — from patient devices through to a provider’s EHR system, and then on to all the clinicians who need that information, in whatever system they use.
In its ideal form, interoperability in healthcare represents the total, coordinated access of shared data, across all devices, EHR systems and technical applications, in a way that’s safe, seamless and timely. All necessary parties should be able to access and exchange the information they need, across organizational and geographical boundaries.
In practical terms, though, healthcare interoperability is often just a couple of points of connectivity within any organization — say, devices to an EHR system. Although many organizations have some form of connectivity in place, full interoperability remains a goal on the distant horizon for many others.
What are the benefits of achieving interoperability in healthcare?
The surge in healthcare interoperability over the past couple of decades is a direct result of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Also known as HIPAA, this federal law set the standards for the use of patient health information (PHI) for any facility or organization that provides patient care, or uses it for other purposes.
As computers and other electronic devices have come into wider use since 1996, so has the need to ensure that every part of the continuum is safe, secure and up to a certain professional standard. As such, HIPAA has become the foundation on which today’s healthcare interoperability is built, and the standard on which all technology-focused care concerns are based.
Beside reasons of compliance, though, healthcare organizations have also been able to leverage the need to achieve interoperability in healthcare for the benefit of themselves and their patients. For instance, better interoperability directly enables improved care coordination by giving caregivers easier access to the patient health information they need to provide timely and preventive care.
Of course, that’s a benefit that also extends to patients, too. Full, seamless and safe interoperability also gives patients more information and opportunities to engage, both of which can lead to better outcomes. It also lets them move more easily between providers, giving them more freedom of choice at a time when consumer choice is playing a greater role in healthcare delivery.
Working to achieve interoperability can also help organizations realize other operational efficiencies. Clinical guidelines can be more easily kept accurate and up to date, as well as accessible by all workers. Staff will also have fewer administrative headaches to deal with, which could be a boon to morale and retention rates at a time when qualified staff are difficult to find.
And by connecting all data in a centralized hub, leaders can more cost-effectively put in place holistic solutions for privacy and security. They’ll also be better equipped to identify larger trends and take the appropriate action at an earlier stage, and make long-term, data-driven operational improvements that can save time and money.
In its most ideal form, interoperability in healthcare could help solve a lot of long-standing problems. It can help payers and service providers to better understand patterns of demand and utilization, as a guide to interoperability offered by IBM points out — as well as enable “life science organizations … to leverage robust datasets to drive faster, more informed research.”
Challenges to achieving interoperability in healthcare
Yet this is all easier said than done, particularly for organizations that are just getting caught up with EHR, or that may struggle with the ins and outs of HIPAA compliance. Across the United States, there are still hundreds of certified EHR systems in use, some of which may not be easily integrated into larger systems for any number of reasons.
“Health data interoperability remains a problem for clinicians, despite the prevalence of digital health records,” as Christopher Jason explains the situation at EHR Intelligence. He goes on to cite a survey showing that “nearly one-third of hospitals and health systems reported that their interoperability endeavors are insufficient, even within their own health organizations.”
And, of course, achieving truly safe interoperability is a complex job requiring a high level of expertise — accurately and efficiently translating and adapting technical specs and clinical terminology, for instance. For organizations without the resources to get the job done from within, that expertise can be costly. Yet it’s an investment worth making, particularly with the need for interoperability growing every year.
How remote patient monitoring can help
The good news is that telehealth technology like remote patient monitoring (RPM) is now widely available for organizations of all types, helping leaders get even more from their investment in healthcare interoperability. By choosing the right RPM solution, providers can get key assistance with achieving interoperability in healthcare, delivered with expertise and trustworthiness.
“A telehealth platform integrated with an interoperable electronic health record (EHR) system can contribute directly toward achieving the often-discussed “quadruple aim” [of] better health outcomes, improved patient experience, lower costs, and improved clinician experience,” write the authors of a 2022 study published in JMIR Medical Informatics.
By implementing a leading RPM platform that’s curated by professionals, leaders can ensure that they’re securing a key part of healthcare interoperability along with an essential tool for care delivery. A comprehensive and scalable RPM solution can also help ensure that industry standards are being followed at all times, putting compliance with HIPAA and other regulations in the hands of experts.
An expertly designed and implemented RPM program can also help promote cybersecurity by helping bring all of an organization’s data and processes together into a single, up-to-date, easy-to-oversee system. Fewer touchpoints mean fewer points of vulnerability — which can also provide assurance about data security at a time when that topic is top of mind for many patients.
After all, interoperability is all about patient data. And since the pandemic, remote monitoring has become a more prevalent source of that data than ever before. So, if recent trends with telehealth have brought us to a point where interoperability is an urgent necessity, it’s also made the tools for achieving it more accessible than ever.
Achieving interoperability in healthcare with CareSimple
By now, it should be clear to anyone wondering how to achieve interoperability in healthcare that the task is enormous, complex and highly important. As healthcare becomes more and more connected, achieving interoperability is essential to also ensure the kind of care coordination and patient engagement that drive better outcomes and, by extension, a brighter future for everyone involved.
As a leading provider of RPM solutions, CareSimple is also a pioneer in interoperability, offering a platform that’s fully compatible with dozens of EHR systems, including Epic, Cerner, athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, NextGen and AllScripts. And our suite of RPM services and remote care devices are scalable and solutions-oriented, designed to help organizations meet a wide range of needs.
Looking for help understanding the details of RPM? Download our Ultimate Guide to Remote Patient Monitoring for all the information you need, from devices to implementation best practices. Or, check out our sample RFP for RPM programs. for a guide to finding the ideal RPM solution to meet your specific organizational needs.