Putting the “P’ in Interoperability: Patient Pains and Perspective

Putting the “P’ in Interoperability: Patient Pains and Perspective

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As we mentioned in our last article on the Benefits and Challenges of Interoperability, hospital systems have struggled to achieve an integrated and connected IT system for storing and communicating critical patient data. In this second installment of our three-part series, we’re addressing current challenges from the perspective of the patient. We’ll take a closer look at how finding and implementing an integrated IT system can benefit the patient’s health care experience, as well as how the current interoperability challenges are impacting patients and caregivers in many ways.

Disorganized Systems
Each provider holds a piece of the patient’s medical history. With a variety of patient information (demographic data, scheduling, lab testing, patient notes) shared in many different ways (paper, fax, email, online) with many different systems (physician offices, specialty offices, labs, multiple locations, pharmacies, billing, insurance companies), it’s no wonder why it’s a challenge for providers to capture all of this data, and share or interpret it in a meaningful way. This level of disconnect between the health care providers, vendors and patients has made it difficult for patients to understand and organize their own health information, and equally difficult for the physicians to make accurate decisions regarding a patient’s care. With health care interoperability, doctors could see the entire picture of the patient, and provide a greater and more efficient continuum of care.

Patient’s Confusion:  
Patient frustration has helped to drive the efforts toward interoperability. Patients and caregivers today must stay actively engaged in storing and understanding their own health care data, due to the lack of cross-communication between provider systems. Patients should not assume that communication between doctors, specialists, pharmacies and clinics is taking place. Just a few of the headaches that patients currently experience due to the lack of interoperability include:

  • Duplicated efforts: Patients often must provide or fill out additional paperwork at each visit because the provider doesn’t have the most accurate or updated information.
  • Inaccuracies in billing:  When physicians don’t have the proper information, patients can be double-billed for a service or lab work that they didn’t need.
  • Misdiagnosis: Without accurate patient information, doctors can struggle to give accurate diagnoses. More significant illnesses such as cancer only compound the complexity of the situation and can increase the impact of an error in diagnosis.
  • Prescription errors: A dangerous consequence of lack of connectivity between systems could prove deadly if a patient is given the wrong medication or multiple doses of the same medication.

Online Patient Portals and HIEs: Some Relief in Sight:
The health care industry is trying to push some of the responsibility of organizing patient data on the patient by giving them direct access to their own healthcare data. Some efforts have begun within the private sector for a development of online patient portals, which would provide an online personal health record that could carry patient information securely between systems. Applications such as No More Clipboard have been around for years, but haven’t quite gained traction, as patients lack the incentive and sometimes the knowledge or means to keep their records up-to-date. And again, when not all health care systems are using or integrating the online health records, similar issues exist with inaccuracies in data along with errors in care and diagnoses. Portals can increase patient engagement as patients begin to use the portals to:

  • Communicate with physicians
  • Schedule appointments
  • Pay bills
  • Set reminders for care
  • Obtain additional resources
  • Give health information access to caregivers
  • Coordinate care for chronic conditions
  • Telemedicine, wearable device and remote monitoring
  • Post-hospital or discharge information and follow-up care
  • Overall care management

Part of Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use Incentive requires that five percent of patients utilize a patient portal to access health records. With the government taking action to hold providers accountable for patient use of these portals, facilities need to start implementing them, as well as educating patients on the benefits and training them on proper use of the systems. The bottom line is that patients need to stay on top of their medical history and clinical information in order to receive the most accurate care.

In addition to online patient portals, some states such as Indiana are leading the way with Health Information Exchanges (HIEs), which strive to integrate healthcare data between health systems through developing a common exchange language. This takes some of the dependency of data management off of the patient. We will address the topic of health information exchanges in a future article.

Giving Patients Peace of Mind
Patients and their caregivers currently put all of their trust in their physicians. With updated patient data at the heart of patient care, physicians need accurate patient information to give accurate diagnoses and treatment. Currently, the health care industry is taking steps every day to get us to that level of interoperability necessary for optimal care. When it happens, imagine the peace of mind of knowing that everyone is on the same page and patients can receive the quality of care they deserve.