Draft Bill is interoperability game changer in a closed-system culture

A recent draft bill circulated by Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas outlines a roadmap for achieving EHR interoperability, including an advisory committee that will establish interoperability standards.

Regardless of the intentions of the HITECH Act, the U.S. healthcare system has not yet accomplished meaningful interoperability. We've been ignoring the barriers for too long and I'm pleased to see congressional leaders refocusing their efforts to overcome these challenges.

One of the most meaningful aims of the proposed bill is that it addresses the lack of vendor willingness to share information and interoperate with others—one of the main barriers to achieving interoperability. The reality is that EHR vendors need to openly share information with each other before the U.S. can have a patient-centered healthcare system. Improved interoperability will result in providers having access to the right tools and information to improve the quality of care and patient outcomes.

Most enterprise EHR vendor's systems are not designed to mutually share information with other systems. Even worse, many enterprise EHR vendors actively prevent meaningful interoperability with their systems so that they don't have to give up market share to other vendors. They create business, financial and technical blockades that make it difficult for hospitals who want to incorporate best of breed solutions that connect and communicate seamlessly.

As a practicing emergency physician, I see the effects of this closed-system culture and how it's impacting patient care. Despite widespread adoption of EHRs over the last few years, practitioners rarely have access to critical external information. Patients deserve healthcare teams with access to the right information at the right time. If EHR vendors aren't willing to work together in the best interest of the patient, then there should be repercussions in place. And that's exactly what is included in this new proposed bill.

The impact of the interoperability challenges has resulted in more hospitals turning to enterprise systems to meet all of their needs, and unfortunately the specialty care settings of a hospital suffer. There is value in having a more tailored system that can provide clinical elements and match the workflow of the unique care settings within a hospital. Physicians need solutions that give them the tools, resources and information to deliver the best possible care for the patient.

A more interoperable environment will make it easier and more seamless for physicians to take advantage of the different and specialized systems that will undoubtedly improve outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

Robert Hitchcock, M.D., FACEP, is CMIO, VP and GM of Physician Solutions at T-System. He is a nationally recognized Meaningful Use expert and active member of the HIMSS Physician Committee and other HIMSS subcommittees advocating usability and responding to regulatory issues. Dr. Hitchcock is a practicing ED physician and an Emergency Department Practice Management Association (EDPMA) board member. In 2001, he earned recognition for excellence in teaching from internal medicine residents and was the readers' choice #3 pick for ONC National Coordinator in a poll conducted by Modern Healthcare magazine. His goal is to advance system adoption and usability to improve the quality and efficiency of ED delivery.

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