Interoperability—How Distant is the Future of Data Exchange?

When The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) first released its roadmap to interoperability, the draft received a verbose response from their technology and provider audiences. As a whole, the industry has expressed that interoperability might be more than a decade out of reach, but with the efforts from the ONC to establish a roadmap, standards for exchange, and a call-to-action for industry innovators, the road to interoperability might be shorter than we’d expected.

The reality of interoperability is that different groups, organizations, and stakeholders define it differently. Interoperability could be as simple as filling an eRx, or as complex as exchanging patient, health plan, clinic, and hospital data from a large hospital system in California to a 100-bed clinic in Georgia. The ONC’s roadmap touches on governance practices, data standards, certification, and privacy and security, and as an industry, that’s precisely what’s lacking—standardization and normalization of data that starts with each entity and integrates across the ecosystem for each patient.

A great deal of the roadblocks begin with the environment for data exchange. Some barriers to interoperability include:

  • Lack of standardization that leads to data blocking
  • Providers have little incentive to share data
  • Many stakeholders do not recognize the difficulty of achieving standards and certification requirements
  • Some policymakers believe the standard adoption process is too bureaucratic
  • Frustrations from the clinical staff are present, and need Physician and Clinician Champions
  • Many stakeholders do not recognize the fact that there are moving goalposts on standards and certification requirements.

With a strong focus across the industry, vendors investing in interoperability strategies, and an ONC roadmap focused on guiding organizations to interoperability, we can expect significant progressions towards achieving interoperability. Better communication and education across policy makers, decision makers, and provider organizations will be key in establishing the right tools and resources to understand the current and future state of interoperability, and achieve it.

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