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Will Expectations Meet Reality for Interoperability in 2016?

How far can the industry progress with interoperability in the coming year? Only time will tell, but there are promising trends to watch

By Marc Willard & Mike Funk

- Last year was an important year for advancing health information technology (IT) interoperability. In particular, the unveiling of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) marks a strategic shift in the focus for health IT.

Interoperability is key to population health management

We are beyond simply encouraging technology adoption. Across the government and health care industries, the new direction forward emphasizes person-centric infrastructure and solutions focused on making a measurable impact on a person’s health. Of course, underpinning all of this is the need for our industry to act on its promises of interoperability — a sentiment that was echoed at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2015 conference.

What does this mean for 2016? With care organizations committing to person-centric and value-based care, we can expect to see growing demand for improved connectivity and interoperability across the health care system. Our ability to practice population health management (PHM) and design technology around the person depends on it. Yet we have a long journey ahead.

Physicians and care teams remain very dissatisfied with health IT investments. And, spending on proprietary IT solutions over the years has siloed health data — putting it outside the reach of PHM tools that care teams rely upon to make informed care decisions.  As health care organizations look to solve these problems and maximize investments in 2016, the need for interoperability between disparate systems remains abundantly clear.

So, realistically, how far can the industry progress with interoperability in the coming year? Only time will tell, but there are promising trends to watch, which are moving us in the right direction. Below are our top three interoperability trends to watch for in 2016:

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Industry will move toward open platforms

Care organizations have realized that population health data isn’t very useful if it’s in a vacuum. They will begin to demand better integration from health care technology so that their various investments can build upon each other. A true population health model requires the effective coordination and shared knowledge of health care systems, hospitals, physicians, specialists, home caregivers and others responsible for a person’s health. To achieve this alignment, care organizations will be looking for more open standards and solutions that can help them integrate data and collaborate both within and outside of their own health networks.

One such solution to keep an eye on is the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Specification, which will help break down the traditional silos between health partners, care organizations, and technology so that they can coordinate a less fragmented, more person-centric approach to the care experience. Using FHIR, the creators of proprietary health IT solutions may even begin offering application programming on top of their technology – allowing for an unprecedented level of openness and customization.

Transition to value-based care will fuel consolidation, drive interconnection

Shifting from fee-for-service to fee-for-value is a heavy lift, so we will likely see an increased consolidation of resources across the industry in order to make care as comprehensive as possible. That includes the merging of physician group and health system technologies as a result of consolidation.

But beyond simply merging health care technologies, care organizations will strive to determine ways to make their unifying health technologies better at serving people in a more meaningful way. And, that starts with improved data sharing. Having all of a person’s health care data stored in a walled-off EHR technology runs counter to the new goals of health care. As physicians and care teams are pressured to drive improvements in wellness and preventive care, the pressure will be on health care technology to bring together traditionally separated systems, to better understand population health and identify opportunities for engagement and improvement.

Federal requirements will lead to tighter collaboration between care organizations, HIT developers

As we mentioned, the ONC is actively encouraging care organizations to prioritize integration and build an infrastructure around population health. Stage 3 Meaningful Use requirements will also have a strong focus on achieving interoperability. Clearly, care organizations are being asked to meet more and more technology measures, but they’re not always getting the support and training they need.

As they become overwhelmed with directives and guidelines, many care organizations will begin to rely more heavily on outside partners, consultants and health care technologies to advise and work with them on these challenging new issues. And technology is really only one dimension of this interoperability challenge. Care teams need real support in terms of training and staff to assist with data interpretation, managing risk across populations and executing proactive care plans that are person-centric.

Overall, the industry’s continued focus on population health will translate into care teams prioritizing interoperability more than ever. We can’t forget that the shift into value-based, person-centric care is a transformational journey, and there are a lot of moving pieces. But next year, some of those pieces will begin to fall into place.

Marc Willard is President at Transcend Insights who most recently turned his attention to population health management (PHM), leveraging his extensive background in customer-driven research & product development to launch Transcend Insights.

Mike Funk serves as Vice President, Operations for the Provider Development, Center of Excellence at Humana based in Louisville, KY. His experience includes; executive positions in hospital administration, physician practice management, managed care, insurance products and health and wellness services.

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