How Data Centers Promote Greater Healthcare Interoperability
By: Ernest Sampera on May 7, 2020
The healthcare industry continues to undergo a massive technological transformation as it enters a new decade. Long held captive by outdated IT systems and siloed organizational structures, healthcare providers are rapidly reassessing the way they deliver care and manage patient information. One of the biggest challenges they have yet to solve, however, relates to healthcare interoperability.
What is Interoperability in Healthcare?
Healthcare interoperability refers to the ability of different healthcare IT systems to easily share electronic health records (EHR) between organizations in ways that are secure and compliant with HIPAA guidelines. A critical feature of healthcare interoperability is the absence of any intermediaries in the sharing of patient data. In an ideal situation, any healthcare organization should be able to use its own EHR system to access the information it needs about a patient quickly and easily, without having to make special requests or have the data transferred by way of a third party. Making patient health records easy to access across providers would significantly reduce costs, improve treatment efficiency, and streamline burdensome administrative work.
But although most industry stakeholders broadly agree that improving healthcare interoperability would be a good thing, progress has been frustratingly slow. The federal government has worked hard to incentivize providers to strive for more healthcare interoperability, but there are a few significant obstacles that stand in the way of true digital transformation. Much of the problem has to do with the complexity of the existing healthcare IT landscape. The average hospital, for instance, uses at least ten different EHR platforms, and that number is even higher when outpatient services and affiliated providers are accounted for. In the rush to transition to electronic records, these providers installed a series of highly specialized systems that aren’t designed to communicate with one another (and are often sold by competing vendors).
Once healthcare providers have made an investment in a specific EHR technology, they generally find themselves locked into using that vendor going forward due to the high cost of replacing existing systems. Unfortunately, this has produced something of a collective action problem in the healthcare industry where every provider has a strong short-term incentive to continue using their current EHR system rather than investing in long-term interoperability that would deliver improved benefits to patients and providers alike.
Why is Interoperability Important in Healthcare?
Healthcare interoperability has the potential to transform how providers and patients access health information. While most patient data is now stored in EHR systems, the large number of incompatible platforms often forces providers to transmit patient information using outdated technology like fax machines. The data then has to be re-entered manually into a separate system. Not only is this process extremely inefficient and time-intensive, but it also provides ample opportunities for mistakes to be made along the way. More importantly, it fragments patient data, leaving some providers with a more complete version of a patient’s history than others.
With healthcare interoperability, patients and providers alike will be able to access the most up-to-date patient records possible. A patient can travel from one healthcare practice to another and not have to worry about whether each practice will be able to view their records (wherever and however they’re stored) to provide the most accurate diagnosis and treatment possible. And since the information is so readily available, providers will be able to deliver treatments more efficiently and cut down on the administrative bloat that is responsible for such a large portion of healthcare costs.
How Data Centers Can Promote Greater Healthcare Interoperability
In an effort to promote greater healthcare interoperability, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) has made interoperability a factor in calculating a practice’s MIPS score and is requiring insurers to make patient data available through the Patient Access API by January of 2021, which will interface with existing EHR systems and allow patients to move through the healthcare system more easily. While the recent COVID-19 outbreak may be forcing HHS to reconsider the API deadline, the change will be coming eventually—whether healthcare providers are ready or not.
Meeting these new healthcare interoperability standards will be a challenge for many organizations, especially those struggling with outdated IT infrastructure that have been slow to adopt cloud-based solutions. Not only is it prohibitively expensive for them to invest in new IT infrastructure, but they must also worry about HIPAA compliance when migrating data or adding new applications and capabilities.
Colocation data centers provide a highly secure and well-connected infrastructure for healthcare providers. With fully redundant systems and SLA-backed uptime guarantees, they offer a stable (and compliant) foundation for building towards true healthcare interoperability. Direct cloud on-ramps and a range of carrier-neutral connectivity options make it easier to securely interface with APIs to ensure that patient data meets the latest federal guidelines for availability and privacy.
Embracing Healthcare Interoperability with vXchnge
As a data center provider with experience providing backup colocation solutions to hospital systems, vXchnge understands the unique data needs of the healthcare industry. Our award-winning in\site intelligent monitoring platform not only reinforces our commitment to transparency, but also provides our customers with unmatched visibility and control over their colocated assets to help them meet a wide range of regulatory needs. Featuring extensive connectivity options and 100% uptime SLAs, our data centers are located in key emerging markets throughout the US to deliver our unique colocation services beyond the traditional data hubs of big city markets.