EHR Interoperability and Patient-Centered Care

Interoperability is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the ability of a system to work with or use the parts of another system.” It was unheard of in the healthcare field just a few years ago. Today it’s a touchstone in the field, functioning to modernize systems and help foster patient-centered care across the U.S.

In a recent article published by the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation (CHRT) at the University of Michigan, the authors reported the results of a survey of primary care physicians in Michigan around the value of Electronic Health Record (EHR) interoperability to patient-centered care.

Background

With the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) – software systems that create a digital version of a patient’s medical record – came into widespread use among healthcare providers.

An unforeseen difficulty with the use of EHRs was the ability to exchange information among different proprietary EHRs. This exchange of information is known as interoperability. It’s important because it allows patients and providers increased access to their medical records, faster communication, and better quality of care. However, the issue was not considered when the legislation went into effect.

Now, eight years later, according to the authors, EHRs are used by more than 80 percent of providers and physicians who increasingly report that interoperability is important. Data from the CHRT Michigan Physician Survey show primary care physicians (PCPs) consider interoperability an important feature for providing patient-centered care.

Findings

The study showed that over a two-year period – from 2014 to 2016 – there was a significant change in PCPs’ perceptions of the value of EHR interoperability and the role it plays in patient care. The survey asked PCPs how important having an EHR with interoperability was to their ability to deliver patient-centered care.

“Significantly greater proportions of PCPs in 2016 said it was ‘very important’ to have EHRs that are interoperable between hospitals and practices, and practice to practice. There was no significant change in the proportion of physicians who saw just having an EHR in their own practice as ‘very important.’”

“While younger doctors are more likely to say EHRs are important, increasing numbers of doctors of all ages are embracing them. Regardless of how long they have been in practice, there was a substantial change in PCP views on the importance of interoperability from 2014 to 2016.”

Implications

Primary care physicians in Michigan have reported an increase in the value of interoperability over time. The study mirrors what is being seen in Idaho’s SHIP initiative. Almost all SHIP clinics in the state use an EHR. But as in Michigan, incompatibility among EHRs in Idaho is an issue. So too, is the problem of how healthcare data is described and recorded. There are nationwide initiatives underway, and in states like Idaho and Michigan, to improve interoperability. The long-term goal is a reliable tool that leads to coordinated care and delivery of quality, patient-centered healthcare.

To read the entire article, visit http://www.chrt.org/publication/ehr-interoperability-and-patient-centered-care/

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