Could Interoperability Help Providers Return to Their Purpose?
Physicians, phlebotomists, x-ray technicians… all the men and women who study endlessly and work tirelessly to secure these careers have one thing in a common: the desire to help others stay well or get better. But recent mandates to integrate EHRs seem to have distracted many providers, who are now wrapped up in charting not for patients and their other providers, but for lawyers, auditors, and insurance companies! In this article, we’ll discuss how a more modern, optimized interoperability could help reduce tedious charting time and get providers back to focusing on their patients.
Understanding Electronic Health Records – And Why They’re So Time-Consuming
About a decade ago, the United States government really began mandating electronic health records (EHRs). The goal of the government, of course, was to improve patient outcomes through better communication. The government hypothesized that sharing data once hidden in paper files would lead to a healthier public.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “widespread use of health IT within the healthcare industry will improve the quality of health care, prevent medical errors, reduce healthcare costs, increase administrative efficiencies, decrease paperwork, and expand access to affordable health care.”
Programs were designed to incentivize practices to utilize EHRs. Says the government’s Health IT website: “The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs will provide EHR incentive payments to eligible professionals (EPs) and eligible hospitals as they adopt, implement, upgrade, or demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health record (EHR) technology.”
So, if all this legislation was designed to improve public health, what’s holding doctors back? It’s all in the details. There are almost a hundred pages of guidelines on how EHRs must be maintained. A laundry list of codes and regulations and best practices. Mess up and providers could face jail time!
It’s no wonder, then, that when entering information into EHRs, providers at hospitals, doctors’ offices, diagnostic centers, and labs are focused on defensibility, not narrative. In a perfect world, providers would document the story of their patient. Instead, most providers are resigned to defend their treatment and diagnosis instead.
Defensive, Tightly-Constructed Charting Makes Communication a Real Challenge – But Interoperability Can Help!
The biggest issue with defensive, nervous EHR entries is that they fail to really communicate what’s happening to the patient. Records are more than ready to be inspected by auditors and insurers, but are of little to no use to a referred physician.
The solution? True interoperability! Interoperability refers to the ability of a system to work with another system. In healthcare, interoperability expresses the level to which different systems – on both software and hardware – can exchange and interpret data. When a practice and a diagnostic lab are said to have interoperable systems, it means that they proficiently exchange data and then present it in a way that the end-user – maybe a surgeon or a lab technician – can understand.
If all EHRs were truly interoperable, worried physicians wouldn’t have to restate the key diagnoses and elements of each patient’s case. They would already be front and center in the patient’s file. Instead, they could use their limited time to chart the evolution of the patient’s issues.
Unfortunately, most providers – whether they are hospitals, outpatient clinics, diagnostic centers, or labs – have not achieved true EHR interoperability. They are faxing over files, sending emails back and forth requesting missing chunks of information, waiting on an improperly entered x-ray or blood work result.
Invest in Your Patients by Investing in Better Healthcare IT
The first step in better patient care – and improved interoperability – is finding a healthcare IT vendor who understands your goals. Find a vendor who believes that true interoperability will empower doctors to be doctors and focus on their patients – not just charts.
A great healthcare IT vendor will be working towards solutions that make life easier for all parties without dragging a doctor, radiologist, or lab director down.
Seek out Interoperability vendors and discuss what they can do to help your practice – and your patients – thrive.