The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) now supports improved health care interoperability efforts through applications that enable a data exchange between two disparate computer systems.
One type of application programming interface (API) or data exchange standard that is being used more frequently by EHR vendors is Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). Developed by Health Level Seven International (HL7), FHIR builds on previous data format standards from HL7, but has several advantages over other standards, including: (1) It is a web-based application and considered easier to use than other standards; and (2) FHIR also makes it possible to transmit and access discrete pieces of data versus whole documents.
Several high-profile players in the healthcare informatics field are showing interest in and experimenting with FHIR. What often stops health care organizations from adopting interoperability standards like FHIR is not necessarily a technical issue, but often a series of business-related issues, such as policy, cost, risk, or the inability to demonstrate a successful business case. For example, will the new technology make the EHR easier to use during a patient exam? If not, many organizations don’t feel incentivized to change their current work processes and practices.
One new technology that may make the move to interoperability quicker is blockchain. Blockchain is a digitized ledger of transactions that allow users access to secure, real time data. The vision for blockchain is to make it easier for consumers to carry their medical information on their personal devices and make patient information readily available to all organizations regardless of the EHR system. Healthcare Rallies for Blockchain, a study from IBM, found that 16% of surveyed healthcare executives have solid plans to implement a commercial blockchain solution this year, and 56% expect to do the same by 2020.
The move to interoperability is a marathon, not a sprint. Although blockchain is beginning to impact the industry, there will undoubtedly be other applications developed along the way that will also support this shift in healthcare. It’s important for providers to assess their interoperability needs to better understand how an application can support their operations moving forward.