New approaches to health records management in 2024: Part 1 – Interoperability

There’s no shortage of Electronic Health Record (EHR) software on the market, a great situation for customer choice. But also, there’s no shortage of EHR software on the market, which means everyone’s making their own decisions about what works the best for them.

In the healthcare industry, where sharing accurate and complete patient data quickly is critical, the abundance and variety of EHR systems presents real challenges to administrators, providers, and ultimately, patients.

Cutting-edge interoperability solutions for EHR software

The advent of electronic medical records was like a wish-come-true for many practitioners wanting to more efficiently take notes, keep records, and comply with regulations. But, like an episode of Black Mirror, the benefit of the technology was not without its consequences. The key difference between these systems is interoperability; that is, the ability of the software to share and make use of the information exchanged.

The interoperability of these systems may prove to be of even greater importance as we begin to see a shift towards a value-based healthcare model, where real-time access to records is key. The need for doctors and other healthcare workers to seamlessly send and receive patient history, prescribed medications, pre-existing conditions, lab reports, imaging, etc. is paramount.

If the software used by the sending provider and receiving provider is different, the flow of information is compromised. And to be clear, interoperability (or the lack thereof) is a problem.

In a poll commissioned by Google Cloud, more than 300 physicians displayed a clear consensus in their assessment of the interoperability problem: 86% say improvements to interoperability will lead to faster diagnoses; 95% say improvements will improve patient outcomes; and 96% of these doctors say easier access to critical information could save patient lives.

Three options to solve interoperability challenges

Health information exchanges

Over the years, there have been several attempts at solving this problem. Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) were created as a way to facilitate the connection between organizations within a hospital system or larger region with the purpose of sharing health data. It’s a problem if the two ends of a health records transfer are on different networks, or if the sender’s EHR is different from the receiver’s.

If, for example, a doctor using Epic’s EHR system is referring to a specialist running Oracle Health, it doesn’t matter if they’re in the same network. After however many thousands of dollars healthcare providers have spent to update to modern systems, if the systems are unable to communicate seamlessly with each other, they’ll still be faxing records back and forth. And in an industry in which healthcare staff is already facing burnout from documentation overload, this extra burden is unsustainable.

Third-party health information network connectors

Other solutions have emerged aimed at bridging these gaps, technical band-aids that can help improve results without really addressing the problem. You can enlist the help of an organization called Carequality, which has developed a framework to improve interoperability between Health Information Networks.

Unfortunately, this workaround requires a new case submission, followed by a lengthy process of adoption, ratification, and implementation by various committees, workgroups, and councils. Try and reconcile this process with the notion of doctors pushing for faster diagnoses and you can see it’s not a perfect solution.

Fast healthcare interoperability resources

Another attempt at addressing the interoperability deficit is with something called the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). This is a series of tech standards that define how data can be exchanged between any two systems.

Something loosely comparable would be the “http” protocol, which is based on a set of standards defining how data is shared over the world wide web. In this case, an FHIR protocol and “browser” will facilitate the exchange of the information. There’s promise to this and, while it looks like it will become a global standard, adoption is slow-going. Even if you implement FHIR APIs into your system, you’re not in the clear until everyone else does, too.

How automated document processing supports interoperability

The medical information world is still largely fueled by paper, and Health Information Management (HIM) teams are struggling to close the paper-to-digital gap. For the many healthcare entities that have already invested in their interoperable future, it’s a frustrating waiting game for those that haven’t quite made it. And for those that aren’t there yet, there are good reasons why—good reasons which also preclude them from reaching the goal any faster.

For some it’s a matter of money: limited resources make it difficult to invest in new infrastructure. Some organizations are just slow to move. Some have the money, but don’t want to invest in all new infrastructure if a new standard like FHIR will work just as well some day. But none of these organizations can rightly sit around and do nothing about it.

Some caught in this situation have turned to intelligent document processing as a way to handle incoming faxes and paper records. This provides a workable stopgap while the question of interoperability at large is sorted out. Automating the processing of incoming documents offers immediate benefits:

  • Data is available much faster when automatically scanning documents and letting technology capture the data vs. manual transcription
  • Accuracy improves significantly with use of intelligent solutions that incorporate AI extraction and human verification
  • The two above result in huge time savings for HIM staff

Some organizations use software to extract and capture data from scans, but then staff must devote time to verify and validate the data. Other HIMs outsource the processing to a BPO, getting accurate data but potentially at the cost of speed.

Some have chosen a third way: ScaleHub’s Medical Records Indexing, a managed service for document processing which increases accuracy without sacrificing speed—and makes interoperability a non-issue.

Want to learn how ScaleHub’s managed service can process health records at >99% accuracy in as little as an hour? Read our white paper to see how we do it.

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