How Health IT Interoperability Will Impact Healthcare in 2021

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Posted on January 11, 2021 by Christopher Jason

The unexpectedness of 2020 will lead to greater patient data exchange, interoperability, and innovation.

As the healthcare industry embraces a new year, it is taking the lessons it learned in 2020 to move forward. A focus on health IT interoperability could be the crux of moving toward better public health reporting, patient matching, and interoperability in 2021.

“In the general world of information sharing, one of the biggest areas of interest for me was watching the intense engagement of federal agencies, such as the ONC, FDA, and CDC quickly pivoting from trying to do things for individual patients, to trying to manage cohorts and populations, and understanding the general health of a populace,” Tom Skelton, CEO of Surescripts, said in an interview with EHRIntelligence.

For example, the need for reporting required the federal government to build a recording system quickly, forcing health organizations to pivot without much notice.

“We had to pivot, our partners had to pivot, and we needed to be able to not only help our partners once they captured this information, but then forward it to the federal government in a way that it could be utilized very quickly instead of scanning or faxing during this specific situation,” Skelton explained.

“We repurposed clinical direct messaging, which is roughly a 10-year old standard and said, ‘You know what? We can take advantage of this and we think we can really help and make a difference here.’”

Being able to pivot throughout 2020 will ultimately prepare healthcare organizations, vendors, and agencies to do the same in 2021. Planning is always important, but being prepared to swivel during unplanned situations is a valuable trait, Skelton elucidated.

“The key message around information sharing, was the agility that the system had to show in order to handle this specific situation,” Skelton continued. “But I think other [messages] are going to emerge as we go through this. This new strain that is emerging is going to create challenges and opportunities that companies will have to be ready for.”

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21st Century Cures pushes healthcare transparency

Information blocking prohibitions and moves to hold health IT developers accountable as a condition of certification will accelerate transparency in 2021.

“There are huge focuses on transparency,” Skelton said, citing the ONC interoperability rule. “You can see that in some of the bills and rules that have been passed recently by the regulatory bodies. COVID-19 has given federal agencies a lot of momentum and the desire to move even more quickly than they had been moving before.”

“We will see additional ways to bring that transparency to bear,” he continued. “Helping consumers as they access the system, and making sure they’re optimizing their out-of-pocket dollars will be a very big next step.”

Patient matching for vaccine rollout

In December, the FDA authorized the deployment of two COVID-19 vaccines, one by Pfizer-BioNTech and one from Moderna, for people across the country.

Health IT leaders must analyze accurate patient data to deploy an effective vaccination strategy. Providers must know if a patient has received a vaccination to allow for a coordinated rollout.

Accurate patient matching and enhanced interoperability ensure the correct patient will get the correct vaccine and the patient will get two doses. The success of both will rely on providers, public health officials, and pharmacists having access to patient data, including vaccine records from databases.

“The interoperability piece of this is going to come into making sure that the patient records are matched and the reporting about the administration of the vaccines makes it back to the federal government,” Skelton explained.

“Identifying the patient is the first step. Then the clinician needs to capture the date and the batch of the vaccine that has been utilized, package that up, and send it in. Then, both the patient and the rest of the care team needs to be informed about the timeline and the upcoming steps,” he continued.

Once the clinician administers the second piece of the vaccine, the clinician will need to report that to the federal government as well.

“All of that is about moving and exchanging information,” Skelton said. “Once you’ve identified the patient, have the treatment around the vaccine appropriately identified, then it is just making sure that everybody in the ecosystem is made aware of what’s going on.”

Although Surescripts is not capturing the information on the vaccine, it is working with its pharmacy partners to ensure patient data exchange and how to move it accurately and quickly.

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Medication management through true interoperability

On top of working with its partners to ensure an accurate and well-executed vaccine rollout, Skelton said the rising cost of medication and the subsequent need for specialty medications will return to the forefront at some point in 2021.

“The ability to administer these treatments and manage these treatments is going to require a tremendous amount of interoperability as we gather patient records,” Skelton explained. “We can help them get through the system and make sure that they get the medications that they need and are entitled to, based on a combination of their benefits and their clinical outcomes.”

COVID-19 continues to challenge the entire health ecosystem to think differently about how to manage patient health. Skelton said it will lead to intriguing innovation from national agencies, health organizations, and vendors alike.