Data: Oxygen for interoperability

By Diana Manos
08:11 AM
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It’s time to move health data to the front of the line. It gets a lot of lip service, indeed, but there hasn’t been enough focus on how information is captured, stored, and used to treat patients, nor on how to best use it to conduct research and improve outcomes.

In order to drive toward next-generation healthcare, however, “we need to turn our attention to the impact of data integrity and its relationship with health IT,” said Allison Viola, vice president of policy and government affairs at the eHealth Initiative.

Viola is slated along with healthcare management consultant Mike Nusbaum, president of M.H. Nusbaum & Associates, to speak on this subject at the Government Health IT Conference in Washington, DC, June 17-18.

“With so much interest and effort underway to realize the promise of a nation-wide, ubiquitously-integrated health care system, perhaps it's time to take a breath and ask ourselves: Have we been successful in raising the quality bar on coordinated outcomes-focused care?” Viola and Nusbaum will delve into that question during their discussion. “Is the system transforming in order to accommodate an integrated care delivery environment, and is the patient truly benefitting?”

With the advent of the stimulus package in 2009, the U.S. has tried to tackle the issue of EHR interoperability, with “tremendous advances” made.

But some have questioned whether HITECH Act funding alone will provide sustainability to the effort, citing a lack of uniform standards perhaps chief among the key problems.

“The U.S. is still not fully aligned on the same standards, and in many cases, the same standards have been implemented differently,” Viola said. “And where IHE Integration Profiles and HL7 Implementation Guides help to [shape] the way standards are actually adopted, we have yet to see a national infrastructure that supports a common standards framework allowing ubiquitous exchange.”

Now that health information is coming into the spotlight, concerns have increased. The “data part of the interoperability puzzle” is the least standardized or robust, she added.

Whereas CIOs, healthcare entrepreneurs and federal officials have elevated the phrase “data is oxygen for innovation” into something of a cliché, perhaps the quotable saying is equally pertinent to interoperability.

Indeed, some headway is already being made.

Structured terminologies that allow data to be codified at the source are creating downstream benefits, Viola added.

These include the ability to create abstracts for reimbursement, provide a large data pool from which meaningful analytics can be drawn, and HIE that can be classified, sorted and prioritized to support meaningful exchange. 

“But there is so much work yet to be done,” Viola said.

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