Proposed interoperability rules: a great first step — but the road ahead is long

Proposed interoperability rules: a great first step — but the road ahead is long

March 27, 2019
Health IT
By David Lareau

The healthcare industry appears to be closer than ever before to adopting standards to support the interoperability of data – an essential first step for the efficient exchange of clinical data.

It’s sometimes easy to take standards for granted, though the absence of certain standards could make life complicated. Consider wall plugs, for example. It’s pretty amazing that regardless of where you are in the United States, most wall plugs can delivery electricity for your phone, lamp or laptop. Can you imagine how inefficient and inconvenient it would be if the wall plugs in your home were different than the ones in your office, or if all hotels and airports had their own unique plugs?

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Fortunately, wall plugs are standardized across the country, making it easy to access electricity from most any plug in the country.

Easier access to patient data
By establishing exchange standards, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) says it hopes to make it easier for clinicians and patients to access clinical data. In February, HHS issued proposed interoperability rules that included the recommendation to adopt standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) to facilitate the secure electronic exchange of data. APIs can provide access to clinical data in the same way that wall plugs give consumers access to electricity. By requiring a standard approach for the development of APIs, HHS is paving the way for a standardized method of secure information exchange.

The adoption of standards is an important first step toward achieving full interoperability. Unfortunately, it’s only a first step and the road to full interoperability is long – which means a considerable amount of work remains.

The need for useful data
HHS’s proposed interoperability rules include a recommended standard for sending and receiving data, which is a necessary start for information exchange. However, having an effective mechanism for sharing data does not guarantee that the transmitted information will be in a format that enhances a physician’s understanding of a patient’s health.

The proposed rules support the idea that good data is essential for achieving value-based care goals. Physicians are empowered to deliver the best possible care when they have the right data appropriately linked with the right patient, and available within existing workflows at the point of care.

The latest proposed rules fall short on specifics, especially in terms of how to make electronically shared clinical data useful for the end user.

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