EHR Interoperability: Uses, Benefits, and Implementation

April 28, 2022

EHR interoperability: happy team putting their hands together

In behavioral health and human services, you need interoperable electronic health record systems (EHRs) as it’s the only way to guarantee health information exchange (HIE) and prevent information blocking. Without EHR interoperability, there are limitations to what healthcare organizations can share and access. However, there are a lot of moving parts and multiple parties to consider with adopting a new electronic health record system.

This article explains the concept of EHR interoperability and shares tips on how behavioral health and human services can choose (and benefit) from the right electronic health record system.

What Is Interoperability?

EHR interoperability: group of people holding hands

Interoperability is the ability of different devices and systems to communicate. It’s possible when different parties can exchange information using common protocols, standards, or formats.

These conventions allow for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication without human intervention. If healthcare providers share patient data in a standardized format, it allows other EHR systems to read and interpret the data, and facilitates further analysis to provide more personalized treatment recommendations.

EHR interoperability, as it pertains to the healthcare industry, is the ability of healthcare providers to share patient information between two or more participants in a healthcare system. It’s the ability of software applications, like EHRs, to exchange data.

Importance of Interoperability

Interoperability plays an important role in digital medicine research because it can help you better understand how it gets implemented into clinical workflows and how it ultimately impacts patient care. Plus, the availability of data from different sources allows for more accurate analyses.
Improvement in patient care outcomes and reduced cost of care are among the top benefits of interoperability. What’s more, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recognize that EHR interoperability is necessary for achieving meaningful use and supporting quality health care outcomes. 

Previously, healthcare organizations that received funding from the CMS had to meet certain requirements. In the first stage, the criteria included the use of certified EHR technology and attestation of meaningful use objectives and measures. However, the CMS, in two consequent stages, upgraded the criteria to support seamless and secure patient access, exchange, and use of electronic health information through interoperable exchange requirements.

The change in the initiative’s name from EHR Incentive Programs to Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program encapsulates the latest requirements and focus. Eligible hospitals that do not meet all regulatory requirements will be subject to downward payment adjustment under the Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program.

Levels of Interoperability

There are four levels of interoperability: technical interoperability, syntactic (structural) interoperability, semantic interoperability, and organizational interoperability. The process follows a progression from lower-level to higher-level components.

Lower-level technical components refer to the ability of information systems to share data using standardized data formats and communication protocols. Higher-level organizational components relate to a support structure for information exchange, including a comprehensive governance framework (e.g., policies and processes), agreements between participants, and technical infrastructure to support exchange (such as health information exchanges).

  • Technical interoperability: Specifies foundational interoperability standards for data formats and protocols. It deals with data exchange between systems.
  • Structural interoperability: Specifies symmetry between system architecture, i.e., standardized data structure or file format. It deals with the syntax of the data exchange and how the system processes the data.
  • Semantic interoperability: Specifies language uniformity through common vocabularies. It determines the interpretation of data — do they mean the same thing across systems?
  • Organizational interoperability: Specifies regulations for data exchange and data sharing (e.g., legal frameworks regarding privacy) as well as social agreements among the involved stakeholders. It determines legal requirements and rules governing data sharing. In other words, what healthcare data can you share?

EHR Interoperability: Choosing EHR Technology

Woman wearing headphones and writing on a notebook

For healthcare providers, EHR interoperability means that you can share patient health information without losing your ability to maintain reports, notifications, and requests. It also means you can share patient medical records with other healthcare providers for appropriate care and treatment. 

Plus, as a clinician, all technology used to interact with your patient — from scheduling an appointment, requesting a prescription refill, or sending questions via secure messaging — is part of one system that works as it should, no matter where the patient goes.

However, it’s important to note while interoperability is important when choosing EHR technology, there are other factors that determine how successfully you implement an EHR system. 

Usability (simple interfaces for ease of use), system compatibility, and adaptability are all integral, as is tailoring an EHR solution to your specific organization structure with as little disruption to end-users’ workflow. 

Before you choose an EHR system, here are some important questions to ask.

How will the EHR technology fit your workflow?

When selecting EHR technology, consider how it fits into your workflow. The success of a practice's EHR implementation depends largely on how easily its staff adapts to the new system. A complicated user interface can result in low adoption rates among physicians and medical staff, which can lead to poor patient care and lower profitability. The right system will help you improve the efficiency of your organizational processes, increase productivity, and optimize profitability.

Can the technology integrate with other systems?

The best EHR technologies are those that can integrate with other systems like practice management solutions and billing software. Integration helps streamline operations in public health care practices by eliminating duplicate data entry, reducing errors, and improving communication. By integrating systems together, it’s easier for practices to have access to patient records and other information stored in other systems.

What kind of support does the vendor provide?

It’s important to ask about the ‌support offered by the vendor before signing up for an EHR solution. 

On March 9, 2020, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) released the 21st Century Cures Act Final Rule to support interoperability, patient access to data, and prevent information blocking. The final rule from ONC calls on the healthcare industry to adopt standardized application programming interfaces (APIs), which will help allow individuals to securely and easily access structured electronic health information using smartphone applications. Healthcare organizations can implement this using digital patient engagement solutions.

Digital patient engagement solutions encompass a wide-range of technologies that enable patients to access their personal health records, communicate with physicians and other providers. It’s a way for healthcare organizations to connect with patients, as they provide patients with a central hub for all their healthcare needs through patient portals they can access via web browsers or mobile devices. 

With patient portals, patients can schedule appointments, view lab results, pay bills, and interact with their physicians. This is especially critical as meaningful use stages 2 and 3 require that patients have secure online access to their medical information, which they can download or transfer electronically. 

ContinuumCloud's EHR solution is a meaningful use certified EHR solution that enables patient access for behavioral health organizations, through our digital patient engagement system that allows case managers to manage client care and easily provide patients with the information and tools they need to take an active role in their care. 

It’s Time to Consider ContinuumCloud’s Interoperable EHR Solution

Healthcare professionals must choose an EHR solution that can share information seamlessly with other EHR systems, integrate securely with third-party applications, and also align with their organization’s workflow.

ContinuumCloud’s EHR solution makes this possible. Our cloud-based EHR solution for behavioral health and human services organizations meets the demands of large and small organizations alike, while offering fully customizable features.

Contact us today to find out more about how we can tailor our interoperable EHR solution to align and optimize your organization’s workflow.

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