Rome wasn’t built in a day—and interoperability across all health data systems won’t be achieved overnight. In fact, we’ve been paving the road to complete connectivity for several years now, and there’s still no definitive end in sight. But now, more than ever, the companies providing those systems have some serious incentive to hasten the pace of their construction efforts: I’m talking about the nationwide push toward value-based, patient-centered care delivery.

After all, to succeed in this reform-driven era of health care, providers must work together to ensure each patient receives the right care, from the right provider, at the right time—and that kind of coordination doesn’t just happen. Nope; to realize the full potential of a team-based care approach, all members of the team must be on the same page—and that means they must have access to the same information. Furthermore, they must be able to understand and apply that information effectively—and at scale. That’s where technology—more specifically, seamlessly connected networks of technology—comes into the picture. Here’s why healthcare providers and the IT companies that serve them must embrace interoperability now:

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1. Generalized EHR systems aren’t conducive to specialized care.

Many large health systems—especially hospitals—rely on so-called “one-size-fits-all” EHR software across their entire organizations. And while that may solve the accessibility problem, it also creates a whole new issue: compromised quality of patient data. After all, when a provider uses a software system that isn’t tailored to his or her specific area of practice and clinical workflow, there’s a good chance that provider isn’t documenting to the best of his or her ability—or tracking information that will actually help improve the quality of care the patient receives.

Specialized electronic documentation systems, on the other hand, totally align with specialty provider practice. Furthermore, those systems often prompt providers to enter certain information at certain times—thus ensuring a more complete patient record. So, how can health organizations get the best of both worlds—that is, high-quality documentation and complete data accessibility across all members of a patient’s care team? You guessed it: by arming specialists with best-of-breed documentation and data-collection software and then creating the infrastructure necessary for those systems to share data with each other.

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2. Disruptions to provider workflow lead to decreased quality of care.

Continuing on the topic of quality, it’s tough for providers to give patients optimal care experiences when their technology distracts from—rather than enhances—the care delivery process. But while generalist EHR systems typically don’t add much value to specialist workflows or patient interactions, specialized systems can actually improve patient-provider communication. This is especially true for systems that include built-in outcomes tracking, as they allow providers to involve patients in the treatment process and show them data-supported proof of their progress.

3. Inaccessible data is unusable data.

However, that data doesn’t mean much outside of an individual practitioner's treatment room if no one else can access, understand, and use it. And with healthcare reform efforts increasingly being directed toward improving health at the population level, the importance of widespread access to—and leverage of—patient data will only continue to grow. For that to happen, though, the healthcare community—including IT providers—must work together to break down the barriers between “siloed” data repositories. Otherwise, a whole lot of data will go to waste—data that, if analyzed and applied appropriately, could unlock valuable information about clinical best practices, regional health trends, and patient care paths.

4. Value-driven payment structures demand quality data intelligence.

Driving meaningful change is great—but it’s not necessarily enough to motivate health organizations and technology vendors to deviate from the status quo. But, in the healthcare industry—just like in any other business—money talks. And with payments for healthcare services becoming increasingly dependent on the quality of those services—thanks in large part to alternative payment initiatives like ACOs and the comprehensive care joint replacement model—the demand for data intelligence is poised to skyrocket in the coming months and years. More than that: The healthcare market will be saturated with demand for software that can pull and share data from a variety of sources across the continuum of care. And if that demand isn’t filled, those providers who participate in collaborative, team-based care delivery models—either voluntarily or by mandate—will be unable to truly optimize efficiency, minimize costs, and maximize payments.

Great feats of architecture take time, and interoperability is no exception. But with the pressure to deliver better care at a lower cost continuing to intensify, providers can no longer afford to settle for technology that doesn’t:

  1. align with their clinical needs and workflows,
  2. track patient data—including outcomes data—in a meaningful and scalable manner, and
  3. plan to integrate and exchange data with other systems at some point in the (hopefully near) future.

Otherwise, they—and their outdated software systems—will be ancient history.       

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