A Wide Range Of Problems Still Holding Back Health Data Interoperability

A new health data interoperability survey by Healthcare IT Today with 82 responses suggests that when it comes to interoperability, healthcare organizations are struggling with many of the same challenges they faced five or even 10 years ago.

Without a doubt, respondents are still interested in fostering health data sharing. Their objectives for doing so include improving patient care, streamlining revenue cycle management functions, increasing the accuracy of patient records, making sure patients have access to those records, supporting population health and value-based contracting, and automating more processes.

However, few organizations are meeting these goals, according to the respondents. “Most systems are only using the interoperability piece such as direct messaging to throw information back and forth to satisfy the requirements for MIPS/MACRA,” one health IT leader wrote. “Clinics are still relying on faxing and phone calls to obtain the data they need. Staff go through the motions to send and receive the data into their EMRs but rarely use the data for caring for the patient.”

The truth is that there are still many hurdles providers face when meeting this goal, including the limitations of their EHR, foot-dragging by vendors, a lack of adequate standards, difficulty adopting what standards do exist and the cost of making interoperability work, respondents said.

For example, Health IT pros complained that their EHRs were ill-equipped to handle robust data-sharing. “Outside vendors aren’t able to share data and resources, and there’s no consistent reporting of the same information between organizations,” one respondent wrote. “This makes interoperability difficult.”

When asked who’s most responsible for the lack of interoperability in healthcare, EHR vendors (42%) were by far the most cited entity, followed by hospitals, health systems and medical practices (30%), government (23%) and doctors (6%). (Respondents were offered “patients” as a choice but none of the respondents selected it.)

Survey respondents were particularly unhappy with the problems EHR vendors are bringing to the table, including a lack of co-operation with their peers and continued resistance to embracing data sharing generally.

In addition, many argued that despite years of intense effort, data interoperability standards aren’t where they need to be. “Programs that allow for cross-communication should be able to talk to multiple providers no matter what [providers] are using,” one respondent noted.

Not only that, some seemed resigned to data sharing remaining awkward for the foreseeable future. “The horse is already out of the barn,” another respondent wrote. “This should have been done years ago when the installations were taking place.”

The survey respondents did name a few companies which seem to be doing a good job in tackling these problems, including Epic and (particularly its data-sharing tool Care Everywhere), Kaiser Permanente, HIE vendors, the Sequoia Project, HL7, and CommonWell/Carequality.

Respondents were particularly happy with Epic’s efforts. “Epic and Care Everywhere bring more improvements on a regular basis,” said one health IT leader. Another reported that Epic “has proven interoperability between all their installs with standardized metrics.

That being said, most respondents were doubtful that current interoperability standards efforts would help solve this problem.  When asked whether current healthcare standards were sufficient to make interoperability a reality in healthcare, roughly 64% said “no” while 36% said “yes.”

On a slightly different note, the survey found significant support for a national patient ID. This included 45% who rated their support as 10 out of 10, 12% who rated it 9 out of 10 and 18% who rated it 8 out of ten.  Over 75% showing strong support for a national patient ID is a good thing.  Now if Washington would just allow it to happen.

If you liked getting these survey results, you can help us out and take part in our April Telehealth and Telemedicine survey.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.