The right vendor partner will support the 4 pillars of interoperability
by Andy Fosnacht
October 16, 2019

Integrated care—that’s the direction health care is going. It makes sense to address health from a person-centered approach, and achieving actual, true interoperability is how providers can make it happen. To obtain a full view of an individual’s health history and current status, it’s vital for providers to easily connect and align with other organizations from across the health care continuum. Technology is critical in facilitating interoperability and how existing health data can be leveraged to deliver the best care.

The Four Pillars of Interoperability

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society defines interoperability as, “the ability of different information systems, devices or applications to connect, in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational boundaries to access, exchange and cooperatively use data amongst stakeholders, to optimize the health of individuals and populations.”

The 21st Century Cures Act definition, as published by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, says that health care interoperability means “health information technology that—(A) enables the secure exchange of electronic health information with, and use of electronic health information from, other health information technology without special effort on the part of the user; (B) allows for complete access, exchange, and use of all electronically accessible health information for authorized use under applicable state or federal law; and (C) does not constitute information blocking as defined in section 3022(a).”

By these definitions, to be truly interoperable, technology should do more than just send and receive information. Technology should ensure data is accessible and leveraged in the best possible way to enhance care delivery.

The older approach to interoperability of simply sending and receiving data is not dynamic enough to allow organizations to evolve as new documentation requirements and treatment methods shape the future of health care. Modern interoperability requires capabilities that support robust search functions (query), allowing providers to search within more extensive data networks to locate missing or relevant patient information directly from the electronic health record. It should also allow for this same information to be automatically populated within a patient chart (integration), reducing the need for data re-entry and the risk of human error. Together, sending, receiving, querying and integrating are commonly known as the four pillars of interoperability, which constitute true interoperability when implemented.

Choosing Options

Interoperability has been at the forefront of discussion surrounding health IT for the better part of two decades, and there have been significant government and industry initiatives working to make it happen. As more technology vendors are taking steps forward, they’re leaving providers to decide which interoperable approach is better for them—selecting multiple third-party vendors or managing it all under one single solution.

These strategies can make a difference in an organization’s experience with interoperability, which is why it’s essential to understand precisely how your technology partner works to get data where it needs to go.

You may feel that achieving interoperability is too complicated. Perhaps you think that it was challenging enough to implement technology to send and receive information alone, and even more complex to add other components that support searching or querying—not to mention automating data integration directly into a patient chart. The fantastic thing is that many vendors are taking steps to do the heavy lifting to make sure that organizations can achieve interoperability.

Finding the Right Technology Partner

However, not all technology partners are created equal and they don’t all use the same approach. Some only send and receive data and call it interoperability, while others support all four pillars of interoperability, but on the back of third-party applications.

How does your current or prospective IT partner approach interoperability? Consider the following:

  • Does it support all four pillars of interoperability concerning data: query, send, receive and integrate?
  • Is the workflow to query, send and receive automated?
  • Is the technology connected with robust data networks such as Carequality?
  • Are any of the interoperable processes accessible in a single solution or reliant on the use of a third party?
  • Is received patient data automatically integrated from external sources directly into the patient chart?
  • Does the technology support consent to search and send from health information exchanges?
  • Is their data exchange secure and HIPAA-compliant?

If you find yourself answering ‘no’ to several of these questions, you may put your organization at risk of not keeping up on interoperability and having to play catch up.

For peace of mind and security, it’s essential to do your research on what your current technology partner provides and compare that to other vendors. Consider finding a partner that manages everything under one roof to avoid keeping tabs on multiple vendors or solutions. The best partners have a strong approach to interoperability that effortlessly puts all relevant data at a clinician’s fingertips, allowing them to have a complete patient view and to focus on delivering care.

Interoperability is here to stay. It’s a matter of when, not if, you implement the right technology to support it. Technology is quickly evolving and accelerating, and there are tech vendors who are staying connected with it all. Do your research and ask the tough questions of your technology partner. Find the one that works for you, so your organization doesn’t fall behind.