The Network Effect is coming to healthcare

Interoperability for patient centeredness is an industry imperative

By: Todd Charest, Chief Innovation and Product Officer for Ingenious Med

The network effect and interoperability

The network effect is the term given to systems where the value of each user is increased as the number of users on the system grows. The more who use the product, service, standard or system, the higher its value becomes to the group. This is important especially in healthcare as no single entity, system or software has the complete 360-degree view of a patient that is ideal for improving health outcomes.

Enter interoperability. According to the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS), interoperability is the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data and use the information that has been exchanged. In essence, it enables health information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to advance the effective delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities.

These are critical definitions and also industry imperatives as we consider the current shift underway toward “The Right Side of Healthcare.”

Sharing data to achieve a “person-centric” view of health

The healthcare system has historically operated in silos often organized by place of service, medical specialty or acuity. The system focused on workflows, systems, data needs, and best practices that were specific to a segment of the patient’s health experience but not the longitudinal patient view over time. Whole systems were designed to support a narrow segment of the patient workflow, including specialty and acuity-based systems such as practice management systems and electronic health record systems.

While these advancements were needed to incrementally advance beyond paper to digital assets that can now more easily be shared, we need a more longitudinal patient view if we are to achieve “health outcomes” and not just “treatment outcomes”. The shift of risk-baring entities and payers (you and me, ultimately) to become a “purchaser of quality services” and not just a “payer of claims” requires that the industry take a more holistic view of the patient’s health and recovery.

Patients are complex, and healthcare is a team sport. So, to truly achieve improved health outcomes, we must work together and share information across the silos of information that persist across place of service and specialty.

Supporting interoperability and healthier patient populations

If interoperability is required to achieve improved patient and community health outcomes, what efforts are underway to accelerate this imperative and how can we help?

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC for HIT) has been advancing interoperability since 2004, but it wasn’t until 2009 and the passage of the HITECH Act that it was charged with building an interoperable, private and secure nationwide health information system and supporting the widespread, meaningful use of health information technology.

The HITECH Act established definitions and tied incentives to the meaningful use of information technology. The initial focus was on moving from paper to electronic health record systems with the current and future roadmap focused more on sharing data between these new digital systems.

In October 2015, The ONC for HIT shared the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap that is a 10-year vision to achieve an interoperable health infrastructure. A second report, The 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory document, was published in December 2015. This report identifies and assesses the best available standards and implementation specifications for supporting clinical health interoperability. Both reports have a strategic focus and plan to continue to advance the sharing of health information between traditional care settings toward a more person-centric view of health information.

In conclusion, all those working in healthcare should take an active interest in understanding how they can continue to align and focus their organizations to help achieve and influence these standards that together will help improve interoperability. The more stakeholders that adopt these standards the more the true benefits of the network effect will take hold and, as a person, a community and a country, we can achieve better health.