Interoperability in its 'last mile'?

How close healthcare is to true interoperability depends on whom you ask
By Healthcare IT News
12:37 PM
Michael Nusbaum

The vision back in 2004 was that in 10 years the healthcare industry would have complete interoperability from one provider to the next, from providers to patients to payers and back again. Now those 10 years are almost up. So how close is the industry to the original goal?

It depends whom you ask. Ahead of the IHE North American Connectathon Conference in Chicago Jan. 28-30, participants were sounding very confident that interoperability in some form of practice would indeed be a reality by next year. Others weren't so certain, reserving their judgment until stubborn obstacles can be overcome.

But as far as Michael Nusbaum is concerned, the future is almost here.

"Great progress has been made in the U.S, and around the world," said Nusbaum, president of M.H. Nusbaum & Associates, Victoria, BC, and a key presenter at the Connectathon. "But are we there yet? Definitely not. This is as much a 'journey' as it is a 'destination,' and we continue to struggle with what I would characterize as the 'last mile'  -  adoption and implementation."

As a mainspring for measuring healthcare interoperability, the Connectathon has matured and sharpened its technological capabilities to propel the industry further toward its goal of universal connectivity, Nusbaum says.

"As the event grows, so does its relevance to the healthcare IT industry," he said. "More participants in Connectathon testing means that more vendors are better equipped to offer interoperability to their customers.  And as interoperability becomes more available in product, then purchasers of healthcare IT solutions know to ask for it."

This year's Connectathon has more vendors bringing more systems and testing more IHE integration profiles than ever before, Nusbaum said, which demonstrates the strongest commitment to date for making interoperability a reality. 

"With hundreds of engineers representing hundreds of companies that normally compete fiercely in the marketplace, they are collaborating around providing interoperability in all their products for an intensive week," he said. "These visionaries see interoperability as an expectation, not as a marketing advantage."

HIE 'over-engineered'

Robyn Leone, director of public policy and government initiatives for Austin, Texas-based eMDs, says progress is "getting there," but that various kinks are inhibiting the industry from reaching the juncture where it should be. Specifically, the "over-engineering" of health information exchanges has stalled progress within local and regional groups.

"We need to summon the ability to collectively bring all our practices up to speed on what they will need for stakeholders and partners," she said. "There is a lot to be gained by looking at why some systems work and replicating that across the entire group."

The keys to moving forward at the HIE level, Leone says, is to create commonalities to help providers access data to improve healthcare.

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