The company’s VP of interoperability discusses the challenges of the past year-and-a-half, and describes the newest addition to the Cerner Unite suite, which can combine external and internal patient data in a more intuitive side-by-side view.
Even with Cerner’s more than 40 years of experience, during which it has developed its own perspectives on interoperability thanks to decades of handling patient data, the health IT giant has learned some valuable lessons about health information exchange over the past 16 months of the pandemic.
As the company has helped its clients navigate COVID-19, refining its own technologies and helping them connect to HIEs, Cerner also launched a new product this past year: Cerner Unite, a suite of tools focused on interoperability and usability for improved communication and care coordination.
Healthcare IT News spoke with Sam Lambson, vice president of interoperability at Cerner, to discuss these new developments and elaborate on Cerner’s view of interoperability.
Q. What are the biggest challenges facing interoperability in healthcare today?
A. The landscape of interoperability in healthcare has been rapidly changing, with new opportunities and challenges emerging every day. For all of us, COVID-19 has been a major focus for more than a year. The pandemic has highlighted how important interoperability is in healthcare and the major role it can play in being able to make more informed care decisions and track vaccinations.
Two of the biggest challenges facing interoperability in healthcare today are data usability and public health data exchange delays.
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for improved public health data exchange across the country. During the pandemic, healthcare workers across the globe realized how great of a need there is for increasing interoperability in healthcare to coordinate treatment for COVID-19 patients and mass vaccination efforts. The flow of patient data to public health monitoring systems (like the CDC) is antiquated and, even today, can often require paper and faxes.
Additionally, some healthcare vendors lack incentives to interoperate with other vendors’ systems, which can lead to duplicative tests, unnecessary care and higher expenses. The 21st Century Cures Act information blocking provisions, which took effect in April, are a major step in the right direction toward alleviating this challenge, but there’s still work to be done.
Data usability is another challenge in interoperability. Different systems need to be able to exchange information, but more important, the data needs to be available in a format that makes sense to the provider and can be easily applied within their workflows.
The steady rise of burnout among clinicians is a crisis that is affecting the healthcare industry. Having more usable data can help reduce EHR-related burnout enabling providers to spend less time dissecting data formats and more time providing informed patient care.
Vaultara allows for rapid, contact-less access to essential imaging data and improved efficiency.
Plus a reduction in operational costs associated with medical image sharing.
Q. What are a couple of lessons learned regarding healthcare interoperability over the past chaotic year or so?
A. On April 5, 2021, we hit a major milestone where the rules for information blocking went into effect for the first time. This is a game changer, because, along with the technology that’s being required as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, information blocking is going to have a major effect on the interoperability landscape for Cerner and its clients.
The new regulations create opportunities, because everyone in the industry will comply, leading to a new level of data liquidity, and patients will actually have more access to their records, allowing data to flow with the patient wherever they go on their care journey. We’re excited to take advantage of all the new changes brought about by these regulatory shifts to continue to improve our product offerings to make sure patients are informed, empowered and at the center of care.
Another important lesson the market as a whole is learning is that the industry’s shift to value-based care is driving new alliances and payment arrangements that require the fluid exchange of information among organizations to support patient care.
Furthermore, patients and healthcare consumers are using a multitude of digital tools to become more active participants and taking control of their own care. This requires data to be usable and portable, which is a challenge Cerner is working to address through new product offerings.
Q. What role can health information exchanges play in interoperability in healthcare?
A. In order to achieve true interoperability, healthcare organizations really need to be connected to interoperable sources. HIEs are a prime example of this. HIEs work to ensure patient data can be exchanged for providers to access, regardless of which network or EHR platform they use.
This was evident more than ever throughout the pandemic as diverse providers offering COVID-19 labs and immunizations looked to HIEs as a way of seamlessly sharing that data across the network. The pandemic has put interoperability into focus and has sped up innovation in the HIE space.
One problem that existed well before the pandemic is the sheer volume of data coming from interoperable sources like HIEs. Data coming from these sources can be dated, messy, duplicated and big. With billions of records being shared across HIEs every month in the U.S., our providers simply don’t always have the tools they need to make sense of it all and actually find the data that will support them at the point of care.
This has been a lesson learned, and a challenge our teams have been working to address for a long time, now with renewed focus.
Cerner has spent decades championing for HIEs and connecting our technology with global HIE networks. Cerner is a founding member of CommonWell, which is a national HIE network providing data sharing options to tens of thousands of users nationwide. Cerner has also enabled a connection to Carequality, to enable data sharing with other critical partners and allowing comprehensive exchange of healthcare data.
View a demo of Vaultara's self-hosted image sharing software, Flight.
Q. You recently launched a new product called Cerner Unite. Please explain how it works and how it can help with interoperability.
A. Cerner is very focused on simplifying the client experience when it comes to being more interoperable. Cerner Unite is the broad strategy that brings together our interoperability products into a consistent package to ensure all clients have what they need to take advantage of the latest interoperability innovations and capabilities.
Cerner Unite is our commitment to strengthening the usability of external data to improve clinical decision-making and reducing the time-stealing and frustrating exercise of data hunting. All the forces driving interoperability have required an enormous amount of innovation to keep up, and Cerner Unite is a simplified approach to making sure our clients have the essential connectivity that they need to external data and that it is flowing seamlessly into the clinical workflow in a usable way.
As part of Cerner Unite, we are very excited about our latest innovation in interoperability, Seamless Exchange, which goes beyond connectivity to true usability. Seamless Exchange brings external and internal patient data together in a new intuitive side-by-side comparison view. Seamless Exchange will help prevent unnecessary data reconciliation and increase the adoption of outside information by minimizing duplicate data.
Seamless Exchange offers the option to trust specific data sets and specific data sources with the ability to write directly to the clinical record, which helps organizations that might have multiple EHRs, creating efficiency and eliminating manual reconciliation workflows.
Seamless Exchange delivers enhanced functionality, simplifying health data exchange, and provides a more intuitive interoperability experience for clinicians and a better, more holistic healthcare experience for each person.