The ability for devices and systems to seamlessly connect with each other and share data has the potential to enable a 360-degree view of the patient’s health, allowing clinicians to make faster, more responsive decisions. True interoperability also means that data should travel across vendors and health systems to facilitate access to high-quality care, regardless of the patient’s physical geography.
Achieving interoperability in practice has been a gradual process, but patients, payer and governments around the globe are driving change. With the access patients now have to consumer devices and technologies, it won’t be long before demand for more health information will drive a new level of connectivity of healthcare technology. While patient portals and wearables have improved patients’ engagement in their care, they have not created a shift in overall patient behavior, as fitness data without context is not always perfectly actionable. We will only see a sustainable shift in healthy behaviors when interoperability enables patients to have ready and simple access to their entire health history, allowing them to track the benefits of making healthier decisions.
For example, a patient with a heart condition might have a wearable sensor patch that continuously tracks and reports vital signs. Subtle changes in physiology that might signal an escalation in his condition could be preemptively reported to the patient’s care physician, triggering a phone call with medication advice or asking the patient visit his doctor. Before the patient arrives, clinicians have access to up to the minute information enabling faster and more responsive treatment and advice, perhaps preventing an unnecessary hospitalization. Once hospitalization is prevented, the patient may begin to monitor his exercise and activities, which can also feed into the EMR, allowing clinicians to monitor progress, and provide timely intervention. This will especially improve the quality of life for fragile patients, who are so often just a missed dose of medication away from a trip to the emergency room. Access to this kind of data can empower them to take more control of their day to day lives through consumer friendly views of their clinical information.
While all of these ideas may sound futuristic today, interoperability is the first step to making them a reality. Over the past ten years, we have taken individual silos of small data within health care organizations and consolidated them into enterprise information systems. This has been a great first step in the journey. However, in the process we have created even larger silos of inaccessible data in many instances. We already have many of the technical capabilities to absorb patient data and federate it across large organizations and geographies, thanks to organizations like HIMSS and IHE. With the proper incentives in place, interoperability will enable large-scale improvements in health care.
I’m seeing some positive changes – such as the ONC’s recent interoperability roadmap, which is moving us in the right direction. I’m hoping that all of us can collectively continue the conversation at HIMSS15, and find a way to move needle on interoperability this year.