The discussion about interoperability has been a long-standing one. By now, we all understand the importance of ensuring that the data healthcare providers record is accessible to other healthcare professionals. As Maxwell Stroud—lead consultant of Galen Healthcare Solutions—wrote in this Healthcare Informatics article, “We want the data that we collect to be visible, actionable, and presented in context.” And to achieve that, “we analyze the needs of the hospital, the clinics, the lab, the billing office, the federal programs that need reports run.” But, he goes on to point out, “we rarely, if ever, talk to patients about their data needs.” And that’s a problem, because interoperability is one of the prime benefits of EHR adoption for patients. In fact, if it’s handled correctly, it can be the difference-maker for patient experience. Here’s why:

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1. Patients want their providers to have access to their data.

It’s not enough for patient data to seamlessly transfer through one hospital or healthcare organization, because many patients—especially those with chronic illnesses, who Stroud refers to as “healthcare super-users”—receive care from providers affiliated with more than one network. Stroud explained that his super-user sister, who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, “has records at three major cancer centers, three local hospitals, three specialists’ offices (not cancer-related), her primary care provider’s office, and two pharmacy systems.” According to Stroud, while the “‘backstage’ technology that her [precision medicine clinical trial] treatment relies on is phenomenal,” the front-end technology that should be enabling her medical records to transfer to and from all of her providers is lacking. Thus, it’s been falling on her to produce her medical record at each appointment—and for someone with such a large and varied team of care providers, that’s a huge burden.

Apparently, “the most common and most effective method for patients to share their records with their entire care team [is] usually a tote bag filled with CDs of images and physical papers collected over time.”

True interoperability means the data follows the patient.

Building upon Stroud’s message, the author of this article explained that “more informed decisions” get made “when patients, their physicians, and extended care teams access the same test results, patient medical history, visit history, and other care plan information.” However, he wrote, “Sadly, the likelihood of that occurring for most patients is slim unless a patient has assumed the responsibility of owning, updating, and sharing this information along their healthcare journey.” And that seems preposterous.

“With nearly 87% of office-based physicians using an EMR/EHR system per the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, why would reverting to patient ‘print and carry’ be the most assured method of cross-community handling of pertinent information?”

For Stroud’s sister, being the source of all of her medical data is troubling: “I am my own medical record—and that scares me sometimes because I am not the most reliable reporter,” she said. According to Stroud, “Even as we push interoperability and integration, our focus is on what happens within the walls of the healthcare organization.” But, “the future of interoperability is not about getting your patient to stay where their data is—it is going to be about the data following the patient,” he said.

2. Patients want their care teams to collaborate—even after discharge.

As I explained in this article, patients are over siloed care. In fact, according to this HBR article, “It’s a common patient complaint about the people involved in their care: ‘Sometimes the left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing. I don’t feel everyone is working together.’” And that’s a shame: first, because this kind of disjointed care delivery can seriously jeopardize patient safety, and second, because it can seriously jeopardize patient satisfaction.

On the other hand, comprehensive, coordinated care can improve patient outcomes and satisfaction levels—which, in turn, can improve revenue and reduce readmissions.

However, that requires the automatic exchange of patient data (i.e., interoperability), not only while the patient is in the hospital, but also throughout his or her post-discharge care. After all, as we explained in this guide, a seamless and well-timed transition to a post-discharge care provider—specifically, one who uses technology that is interoperable with the hospital’s EHR and has “the tools necessary to track, assess, and prevent functional decline”—can mean the difference between a recovering patient and one who ends up right back in the hospital. With the ever-increasing pressure on hospital leaders to manage costs and simultaneously reduce readmissions, expanding the care team in this way can produce a disproportionately positive ROI.

3. Patients want to be engaged in their care.

Today’s patient wants to be engaged in his or her care—and rightfully so. After all, he or she is not only footing a much larger portion of the bill, but also ultimately responsible for living with the results. Thus, the patient’s focus is on not only the quality of care he or she receives—although that is still crucial—but also how happy he or she is with the experience in its entirety. The best way for providers to engage their patients is to communicate regularly and thoroughly by:

  • providing progress updates,
  • tracking patient satisfaction (through metrics like NPS),
  • monitoring HEP success, and
  • checking in at key times throughout the course of care.

But for patients who are receiving care from more than one provider, this requires coordination—and data sharing. It may even require specialized tools that integrate with existing documentation platforms to ensure providers are communicating at intervals that are most effective for maintaining engagement. Without such technological add-ons, this type of engagement may be tough to scale.

Now, more than ever, patient experience matters—and patients want interoperable technology, maybe even more than their healthcare providers. After all, their lives—and pocketbooks—depend on it. How do you think interoperability impacts the patient experience? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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