In a report released in July, the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) Interoperability Advisory Group (IAG) calls on health systems and hospitals, developers and vendors of electronic devices and information systems, and government and regulatory agencies to work together to improve the interoperability of healthcare data.
In Achieving Interoperability that Supports Care Transformation, the group observes that the United States will gain full advantage of its recent investment in electronic health records (EHR) only when information can be shared easily and securely among all who need to use it. Acknowledging that initiatives such as meaningful use and EHR certification provide starting points, the report faults the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for not doing enough to support interoperability. EHR certification includes standards that support data sharing, but the IAG reports that organizations need more practical help for implementation and better oversight of vendor offerings before they will be able to achieve the goal of interoperability:
…ONC generally did not provide implementation guidance for the use of the standards, allowed flexibility in how the standards are used by vendors and adopted relatively lax testing of EHRs for certification. As a result, AHA members report very limited actual interoperability today.
Members of the IAG include administrative and clinical leaders, as well as experts in information technology, and represent the range of AHA member organizations from large academic medical centers to standalone hospitals.
In addition to wanting ONC and the federal government in general to focus more effectively on standards, certification, and testing, the IAG’s report describes things the private sector must do to advance interoperability. The private sector includes providers, vendors, health information exchanges, and organizations that represent the interests of other stakeholders. Among the ways they can support interoperability, the IAG highlights demanding that vendors adhere to accepted standards, contributing use cases that accurately represent the need for sharing information, and sharing lessons learned and best practices.
In addition to a long to-do list for the private and public sectors, the IAG suggests that a new multi-stakeholder organization may be necessary to “drive progress on interoperability.” Citing the success of CAQH—a non-profit alliance that promotes standardized sharing of financial and business data for healthcare organizations— the IAG proposes that a similar group might help navigate the competing stakeholder interests and accelerate what so far has been slow progress on interoperability.