What is interoperability and why should it matter to you?

The healthcare community has known about the importance of interoperability of information systems and their data for decades. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how crucial it is for medical providers to quickly and securely access and share patient records. 

Patients are worried about catching the virus and what it means for them personally. They want to know about their relative risk and when/if they should seek care if they become COVID positive. At the same time, providers need a comprehensive view of the patient’s medical information to answer questions accurately when their lives are on the line.

With vaccines and therapeutics available to fight COVID-19, there’s hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. But even after we achieve some level of control over the virus, the healthcare community will be reeling. We will be caring for those who suffer from the long-term effects of COVID-19 — including heart and lung damage as well as neurological problems — and dealing with the consequences of a year without regular health screenings.

With these new challenges on the horizon, interoperability can help close the information gap and provide better care across the continuum.

So…what is interoperability?

Generally speaking, interoperability is the interconnectedness of your practice’s healthcare software. It’s the ability for your systems to work together across physical and digital boundaries to deliver better care, enabling the free flow and secure exchange of digital patient information.

Interoperability and data sharing allows providers across the care continuum to get a comprehensive view of their patient’s health and provide better, more informed care.

In 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its final rule, implementing specific provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act. HHS’ final rule includes requirements designed to advance interoperability.

Why practices should care about interoperability

There are several reasons why practices should care about interoperability, but perhaps the three most important are providing optimal care, reducing the burden on your staff (and the cost to your practice), and strengthening the patient’s choice.

When we have a complete picture of the situation, we can provide better care. Having access to a patient’s complete medical record helps enable us to treat the whole patient at the point of care, working together and removing the information and care silos for better patient outcomes. Interoperability and the smooth exchange of patient information also give clinicians the ability to access treatment plans created by the patient’s previous provider, helping control costs by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative testing.

One of the most consequential aspects of interoperability, outside the patient’s experience, is how it saves your staff time. At practices of all sizes, duplicate data entry in various systems is time-consuming, causes clerical errors and doesn’t improve patient outcomes. Interoperability enables virtually all your different technologies to share the same patient data, giving you a single source of truth for every patient.

For certain types of practices that compete for patients — chiropractors, nutritionists, etc. — interoperability can be a strategic differentiator. Rather than just another siloed appointment with another provider, your treatment becomes part of the patient’s broader care plan. 

Why patients should care about interoperability

For patients, interoperability is more than a standardized format for their medical records. 

It’s a much more convenient and patient-focused way of handling information. 

Not only does it help their doctors provide better care, but true interoperability puts the patient in charge of their own healthcare, giving them the transparency they need to make informed decisions about their care plan and change providers if they’re not satisfied. And if they move to a new city, for instance, they don’t have to worry about the headache of physically moving their medical records. 

Interoperability also cuts down the time it takes to receive lab results, reducing wait times and the stress and anxiety patients feel while they’re waiting for a call from their doctor.

Adopting electronic paperwork for your practice

The first step toward interoperability is moving away from physical paperwork and adopting electronic records. Electronic records been proven to reduce waste and errors, provide more-secure tracking of who accessed a patient’s records (and where and when), and make it easier for providers to both access their own patients’ records from any secure connection and location, or share patient information in a timely way.

intakeQ makes the most of your patient’s time in the office by electronically sending and receiving your patient’s intake forms online before their appointment. If you want more information about creating custom intake forms or a fully integrated practice-management solution, or a 14-day free trial, please contact us.

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