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AAFP: Health IT Industry Should be Closer to EHR Interoperability

Although the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) recently released its Interoperability Roadmap, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) does not believe that is enough to achieve nationwide EHR interoperability in a timely manner.

In a recent letter addressed to National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, AAFP’s Board Chair Robert Wergin, MD, FAAFP expressed his and the organization’s dismay at the slow progress of nationwide interoperability.

“Our members and the AAFP are very concerned with the very slow progress toward achieving truly interoperable systems. Furthermore, we strongly believe there is need for increased accountability on industry and decreased accountability on those who are using their inadequate products,” wrote Wergin.

According to Wergin, care coordination, patient engagement, and population health management all need greater support through increased interoperability. However, at the rate the healthcare industry is moving with regard to interoperability, those goals are not expected to be achieved soon. To change this course, Wergin says the industry needs more action rather than more planning. Additionally, providers and organizations that are playing their parts in increasing interoperability need more support.

“We need more than a roadmap; we need action. First, it is our belief that without significant changes in the way health care delivery is valued (e.g. paid) then it will not matter how many standards are created, how many implementation guides are written, how many controlled vocabularies are fortified, or how many reports are created; we will still struggle to achieve interoperability. Any roadmap for interoperability needs to ensure payment reform toward value based payment, in addition to the technical work. This aligns the health care business drivers to the achievement of true interoperability.”

Wergin argued that certified EHR systems are a contributing factor for this slow growth toward nationwide interoperability. In 2007, he said, the AAFP was responsible for creating a set of standards for healthcare summary exchange. However, despite the adequacy of those standards, Wergin reported that practitioners still experienced difficulty in exchanging information due to incompetencies of EHR systems. Because the EHR systems cannot interpret the data that is being exchanged between systems, physicians are finding themselves manually inputting data from one system to another.

“Instead, physicians must view the documents on the screen, just as they would a fax, to find the important information. Then they must re-key that information into their EHR if they want to incorporate some of the summary information into the patient’s record,” Wergin explained.

Wergin described an urgent need to transform interoperability. If practices are expected to achieve meaningful use and other incentive-based models, interoperability needs to be a high priority for the health IT industry.

“Everyone including technology vendors, hospitals, health systems, pharmacies, local health and social service centers and physicians, must come together as a nation to achieve the interoperability levels laid out in this roadmap at a more rapid pace,” Wergin wrote.

Comparing the push for interoperability to President Kennedy’s push to get to the moon, Wergin states that the health IT industry should be able to achieve its goals in the same 10-year timeframe that Kennedy did. By 2019, Wergin stated, the entire healthcare industry should be using completely interoperable systems.

“We should be much closer to our goal and it should be accomplished within ten years (2019),” Wergin wrote. “The AAFP is dedicated to continue our work to achieve interoperability which is fundamental to continuity of care, care coordination, and the achievement of effective health IT solutions.”

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