AHA, docs hit ONC hard on interoperability

'We need more than a road map; we need action'
By Bernie Monegain
09:58 AM
Road signs

Seamless data exchange across vendors and among health systems is critical, the American Hospital Association argues in a new report, "Why Interoperability Matters." Nonetheless, the AHA points out, only 40 percent of hospitals can use the information they receive.

Meanwhile a separate article on interoperability from the American Academy of Family Physicians makes the case that only about a quarter of all hospitals can find, send, receive and use electronic information due to substantial barriers of varying types.

"The current inability for electronic systems to speak the same language to one another and to efficiently and correctly transmit information – to be interoperable – is among the most pressing issues facing healthcare stakeholders today," the AHA report concludes.

[See also: EXTREME essentials for interoperability.]

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT this past week published the final version of its interoperability roadmap, to general applause.

Nonetheless, "We need more than a road map; we need action," according to an Oct. 5 letter sent to ONC by AAFP Board Chair Robert Wergin, MD.

"Our members and the AAFP are very concerned with the very slow progress toward achieving truly interoperable systems," Wergin added. "Furthermore, we strongly believe there is need for increased accountability on industry and decreased accountability on those who are using their inadequate products."

"There is a significant focus on near-term activities," said Erica Galvez, ONC's interoperability and exchange portfolio manager, said in releasing the roadmap on Oct. 6.

[See also: ONC reveals final interoperability roadmap.]

But in its 18-page report on interoperability, the AHA points to lagging standards: "Hospitals have tried to overcome interoperability barriers through the use of interfaces and HIEs but they are, at best, costly workarounds and, at worst, mechanisms that will never get the country to true interoperability," it notes. While standards are part of the solution, they are still not specified enough to make them truly work.

Care coordination, patient engagement and better reporting for public health, quality and safety data all rely on interoperability the AHA report points out.

AHA concludes the report with four key policy questions:

1. To what extent should the federal government fund the enhancement of standards that advance interoperability?
2. How can stakeholders adjust standards to improve interoperability?
3. What actions can be taken with vendors to encourage them to enhance interoperability to meet the priorities set by hospitals, health systems and other providers?
4. What actions can stakeholders prioritize to advance a national infrastructure that is built on a network of networks?

What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments section below.