A straight-shooting article in Healthcare Technology Online provides a overview of the EHR and Health Information Exchange (HIE) mess in the US. Essentially our major EHR systems (Cerner, McKesson, athenahealth, Greenway, Epic) don’t interchange data well, if at all–and the 600-odd practice EHRs were built on siloed designs, existing software and used proprietary formats, often in a rush to take advantage of Federal subsidy programs in Stage 1 Meaningful Use–as HTO’s EIC Ken Congdon stated, “electronic filing cabinets”–and heavily outsourced. Well, it’s now ‘uh-oh’ time as a key part of Stage 2 MU is interoperability. Basically we now have a set of what this Editor would term ‘paste ons’ and ‘add-ins’ to facilitate data exchange between systems that speak different languages (Editor’s emphasis):
…direct protocol (a standards-based method for allowing participants to send authenticated and secure messages via the National Health Information Network), as well as those developed by HL7 (Health Level Seven), a nonprofit global health IT standards organization, provide EHR users with the building blocks for exchanging data. Blue Button, an application developed by the VA that allows patients to download their own health records, is also being adopted and manipulated by EHR vendors and independent developers as a way for providers to exchange data between systems. Moreover, regional and state-run HIEs offer healthcare providers in several parts of the country a network they can join (and technology infrastructure they can leverage) to share health data with other HIE members.
Some systems work well–EHR and pharmacy systems seem to. However, EHR to EHR interfaces are up to the provider and are expensive. Sharing/translation does not mean that all information makes it over without getting ‘bruised’ or having to be reentered manually. HIEs, acting as a focal point for data exchange, are also generally non-profit; the exchange platforms cost millions to develop and further millions to maintain–and buy-in is low, as the article states. Fixing The EHR Interoperability Mess (free registration may be required)
(Updated 8/7 pm for Editor Donna’s POV) This is what happens when you rush adoption and development processes that should take years in order to gain quick subsidy money, and non-healthcare entities (that is you, the US Government) encouraged this, distorting the process. The private and public waste of scarce healthcare funds is appalling, and the disruption to the healthcare system is unforgivable–especially in practices where doctors and managers in many cases have been sold a bill of goods, and they are revolting by changing EHRs, going back to paper or retiring. And the Government should look to itself first. Look no further than to the multiple failures of two branches of the US government, Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, which have the responsibility for current and veteran members of our Armed Services. They have failed spectacularly in serving Those Who Have Served not only the integration of their two EHRs but also in updating their basic architecture [TTA 27 July ‘Pondering the Squandering’… and 3 Apr ‘Behind the Magic 8 Ball’ both review the sad details.] The belief that HIEs with limited funding will solve the interoperability problem is Magic Thinking. At least one move in this direction makes sense: the CommonWell Alliance of six EHR heavy hitters to work on ‘data liquidity’ [TTA 5 Mar announced at HIMSS], but this may be another ‘uh-oh’ and face saving.
With basic, necessary health and patient information stuck in systems and getting lost in translation, how can anyone rationally expect that personal data from telehealth devices will be integrated anytime soon, in any meaningful way? Does this mean that parallel, separate systems and platforms will continue to develop–and yet another wave of integration?