Making data usable: Interoperability is ideal, but implementation is far from easy

Interoperability has become a big topic in healthcare of late…and a tricky one. Its benefits are clear; its implementation, however, is not.

Achieving interoperability among providers, payers, vendors, even regulators is no easy task, and, according to Sergio Carbone, chief information officer at PatientSafe Solutions, not likely one any single vendor can achieve.

“Often care coordination will have to be handled by a third party,” he says. “No information technology provider does it all right now.”

But one can’t ignore the reality that “interoperability is going to be more and more important in providing a patient’s complete medical record,” as Carbone notes.

Interoperability will improve patient care. Of that, there is no doubt. But how does one manage the issues of data security, semantic consistency and even patient matching in this brave new world?

Carbone describes today’s healthcare providers as holding “lakes of data.” He adds, “You have to be able to pool data from all these different sources.”

PatientSafe Solutions, for example, helps providers “master mine” those lakes of data, looking specifically at the Master Data Management (MDM) layer: “When we start talking about care coordination, we need as much information about the patient’s experiences as possible, so we can anticipate any challenges he or she may have post-discharge.”

Where firms like PatientSafe Solutions come in is in providing an Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI) that keeps track of a patient’s healthcare information and then follows that patient outside any given provider’s network. While hospitals have been using EMPIs for years, extending them outside the hospital’s network is a challenge.

Carbone says the two largest barriers to interoperability are:

  1. Inconsistency in applying standards
  2. Already overextended healthcare providers

“Healthcare providers are already stretched thin,” he remarks. “Thus, we try to make our integration with them as easy as possible with rule-based processing to allow for the handling of anomalies in client data.”

While PatientTouch Coordinated Care Solutions are geared toward HL7 standards for exchange, integration, sharing and retrieval of electronic health records, the company also understands the bare existence of a system of standards does not make for interoperability. Standards have to be put to work across all healthcare providers, payers and vendors, and the healthcare landscape isn’t even close on this yet.

To get there requires ease of use. No one is going to promote interoperability (even if one supports it in theory) if it’s difficult and time-consuming. That’s one reason PatientSafe commits to a “custom fit solution” for every client without trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

“We recognize customers come to us with a lake of data,” Carbone says. “Thus, we work to bring leading technologies to make that data meaningful and dispersible.”