Electronic health records (EHRs) have the power to transform healthcare by equipping providers and patients with detailed, accurate information at the precise time it is needed. That’s the promise of EHRs, but it’s far from being delivered. With so many EHR options and workarounds needed to solve the “round-peg, square-hole challenge,” lack of interoperability is why the promise of EHRs remains a pipe dream for healthcare organizations. Several factors stand in the way of interoperability, but one of the biggest is disparate adoption of EHR standards, according to the Government Accountability Office’s 2015 report, Electronic Health Records: Nonfederal Efforts to Help Achieve Health Information Interoperability.

It’s not like the healthcare industry doesn’t understand the value of standards adoption. There are numerous standards, like GS1, that are considered common practice to increase patient safety, drive supply chain efficiencies and improve the traceability of medicines and devices. But when it comes to EHR systems, standards are not always implemented as written by equipment manufacturers or by the teams assigned to implement these standards at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Not only are there differences between how systems are configured, but also in the language used for EHRs, including common message types such as ADTs (admission, discharge and transfer). A diagnosis code in one system, for example, might be completely different in another. These discordant standards for data and message types lead to incomplete and inconsistent EHRs.

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Further complicating interoperability is variation in state privacy rules, as well as data blocking by EHR vendors and other entities that interfere with the exchange or use of electronic health information for cost and competition reasons. These interoperability challenges cannot be solved overnight, but the following steps could go a long way in streamlining data standards:

  • Collaboration among health systems and HIT vendors, allowing them to be proactive about defining standards of interoperability between their systems and quickly adapting to these.
  • Mobilization of Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) across regional, state and local alliances to implement common standards and frameworks for EHRs, allowing providers to achieve interoperability across the larger spectrum of healthcare.
  • Incentives for standards compliance, such as those included in the 21st Century Cures Act, which has passed the U.S. House and is up for consideration in the Senate. The legislation proposes changing the conditions of meaningful use to include interoperability and fighting information blocking with a $1-million-per-violation fine to those who practice it.

Healthcare organizations can also do their part by ensuring a unified standard implementation of EHRs, so disparate information systems can better interpret data, and improving their processes for identifying and locating correct patient records through patient photographs and other alternative methods.

Learn more about the barriers to the free flow of patient information and how to tackle these by downloading our whitepaper. For expertise on how to  overcome many of the technical obstacles to interoperability and integration of EHR systems, .

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