By Gary Palgon, VP Healthcare Solutions, Liaison Healthcare Informatics
Many hospitals are transforming into “accountable care organizations” handling the overall health of an assigned population rather than operate under a traditional fee for service model. This involves implementing both electronic medical records (digital versions of a patient’s paper chart) and electronic health records (compilations of data from all of a patient’s healthcare providers intended to be shared) in order to maximize efficiency.
Government regulations are a factor driving the transformation. According to Data Center Knowledge, President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act will increase the number of patients and thus the amount of data health-care providers will need to handle. An increase in the workload necessitates an increase in efficiency and data interoperability will help deal with that. Furthermore, according to an online timeline of the bill, incentives for establishing ACOs went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, while the first regulations pushing for making medical records electronic went into effect Oct. 1, 2012.
As a result, Liaison Healthcare forecasts that 2013 will show a significant increase in the need for data interoperability between internal and external systems. The growing digitization will require making electronic connections that simply were not there before.
As more and more medical records become electronic, finding ways to get them where they need to go will grow more and more important. According to Health Leaders Media, interoperability will reduce data errors at medical facilities. If records can be shared directly, that would eliminate extra steps like transcribing the records into an e-mail or document to be sent to an outside provider that could produce dangerous errors.
According to a Feb. 15 article in Hospitals and Health Networks, the interoperability needs of an ACO will vary depending on the relationships between, say, the hospital and a medical provider that refers patients. ACO members will need to decide on what type of data needs to be exchanged to maximize efficiency. This might include internal phone and e-mail directories. Another issue affecting interoperability is standards. Although the federal government has established an initial set of standards for health information exchanges, ACO members might exchange data for which no national standard exists. Interoperability might also impose an extra set of costs. If an ACO member needs to be removed, increased interconnection means more difficulty breaking off relations.
If interoperability concerns are addressed, the digitization of records done as part of the ACO transformation could go a long way to making American health care cheaper and more efficient by the next National Health IT Week.
Until next time,