We live in a world where we’re all constantly connected. And yet when it comes to healthcare, that is not the case. Today, critical information about patient health remains trapped in compartmentalized silos. Information is not even traveling across departments in a hospital, let alone across various providers and vendors. If we want to turn patient data into insights that improve care, something has to change, and in my opinion, the key to change lies in systems working together. In healthcare, interoperability is not an option – it’s a necessity.
The healthcare industry talks incessantly about interoperability, but most of our conversations miss the point: interoperability is just a symptom of a broader problem, which is the lack of connectedness in healthcare. This is not just about giving access to EMRs to different floors of a hospital. It’s a larger, more macro problem that extends beyond technology all the way to the clinicians and health systems. If we really want to achieve interoperability, we need to connect more than technology; we need to do a better job of connecting people.
I see two major ways the healthcare industry can come together to encourage collaboration and put us on a stronger path to interoperability.
1. Connected clinicians
For far too long, our healthcare system has been acting defensively – focusing on treating the immediate problem at hand. We’ve been treating patients only when there is a medical problem, instead of working to keep that patient from getting sick in the first place. Until the expansion of accountable care organizations, there was no incentive for providers to work together to prevent patients from visiting the hospital. Rather, keeping more hospital beds occupied was more beneficial.
Under the old way of doing business, clinicians operated alone. A patient would visit a primary care physician for an annual physical and a cardiologist when he needed more medication to take care of his high cholesterol, for example. If the patient had a heart attack and wound up in the hospital, a cardiovascular surgeon might perform his bypass. But there was rarely a reason for the primary care physician and cardiologist to talk with one another.
Fortunately, however, things have changed under healthcare reform, incentivizing clinicians to value care over volume, and we’re already starting to make headway when it comes to clinicians connecting with each other.
2. Open standards
Now that the clinicians are connected, the next step is to facilitate better care through technology. There are a great number of “interoperability solutions” available in the market today. Organizations have proposed a proliferation of solutions that can serve as a translator between two or three different types of patient records. But the piecemeal approach is not enough. Instead, the industry needs to fully embrace a set of open standards to create the infrastructure needed to drive innovation in healthcare technology, so that new tools and technologies can help clinicians provide better care for their patients. With broader standards, EHRs can be shared securely and enable clinicians to access and even analyze data more easily and more thoroughly.
But our connectedness can’t begin and end with EMRs and EHRs. To get a truly comprehensive insight into the patient’s health, their entire medical “story” needs to make sense. This means that everything from our ultrasounds to our CTs, to oxygen monitors to patient tablets should become interconnected to help clinicians make more informed clinical decisions. If all of the tools throughout the healthcare continuum are connected, we’ll be much more capable of analyzing existing data and identifying how we can improve patient outcomes.
We’re starting to make inroads on this connected approach to technology. We recently partnered with Boston Children’s Hospital to take a comprehensive look at data and determine how to best capture and analyze it. We’re not just collecting patient vital signs at a few intervals throughout the day. Instead, we’re beginning to capture high-resolution information that was previously discarded. Now we have the capabilities to take that information and mine it for patterns of deterioration, disease stages and so on. In the near future, we’ll be able to analyze this information to build improved physiologic predictors of outcome and deliver better real-time decision support for clinicians.
Across the healthcare ecosystems there are hundreds of opportunities to make a connection. Instead of operating as if each and every healthcare incident, technology and physician is working all alone and trying to fix each missed connection with a patch, our industry should take a macro view of interoperability and start thinking about how we can become more connected.
When we think about interoperability as more than just a technological problem to be solved, and instead as a broader solution for enabling better healthcare, we all win.