After a recent trip, I was reminded that traveling can surely be a mixed bag. At Memphis International Airport, I had a chance to do some people watching as I waited for my flight to be called for boarding. People rushing here and there trying to make it to their gates, frustrated passengers venting to airline staff about missed flights or lost luggage due to late arrivals, upset that they couldn’t get to their destination on time. Lots of people sitting around and waiting for a long time – myself included. Hearing the struggles of my fellow passengers, I worried I would experience their same plight, which made for a stressful travel experience for a two-leg journey, hoping I would make it to where I needed to go on time and with all my belongings. 

The entire travel experience can definitely be stressful. With lots of scurrying around and risk that I wouldn’t make my next flight due to delays, it made me think of when I had the option to choose a direct flight and how I wished I had gone that route instead. 

When flying, do you get excited about the idea of having a layover and connecting flight, when a direct flight is an option? When it comes to interoperability, healthcare providers face the same options: Send or retrieve data via multiple providers or solutions or work with a single option that gets data directly where it needs to go. It’s important to understand how having the right integration can impact interoperability, seamlessly getting your data connected to the right destination.

Just like booking travel, it’s critical to understand all the routes and carriers before you buy your ticket. For interoperability, the same is true. Not all technology vendors are getting your data to its destination the same way. It’s important to remember that interoperability is broken out into four domains: send, receive, find or query, and integrate. Most providers define interoperability just by the ability to send and receive data, as it’s the primary value offered by their technology vendors. Query and integrate require a deeper level of integration to your electronic health record (EHR) and to health information networks. 

Interoperability has been maturing rapidly in recent years, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has been watching this closely, publishing in November 2018, “Electronic Health Record Adoption and Interoperability Among U.S. Skilled Nursing Facilities and Home Health Agencies in 2017.” The report specifically calls out the adoption of the four domains of interoperability for skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies. 

The ONC report supports that many providers can send and receive data, typically continuity of care documents, but very few are able to search for missing patient information or electronically integrate patient data into the health record.  Searching for missing patient information requires your vendor to integrate to health information networks, which can be done locally, regionally and nationally. Some vendors choose a direct flight path to integration that allows your data to travel without any other connections, while others choose to partner with a third-party vendor that acts as a passthrough point before your data makes it to its final destination. 

Just like travel, some providers are satisfied with having multiple stops before their destination, but it’s important to understand what the impacts of this model of integration are for your data, your team, and the individuals you serve. Know what options your current technology partner provides, and what other technology vendors offer. Post-acute providers who can participate in all four domains of interoperability are emerging as preferred partners to health systems and payers. Don’t let a missed connection be why your organization gets left behind. 

Take some time to reflect on your experience with your current technology partner. Is it easy to share and exchange data or does it take quite a bit of effort? Do any of these seem familiar?

  • Maintenance is constantly required to keep integrations live.
  • A third-party partner is required to make connectivity work.
  • Your IT vendor cannot tell you how your data will get to its destination, just that it will.

If so, you may be on the wrong flight.

Dennis Jakubowicz is a vice president for Netsmart, a health information technology provider for post-acute, senior living, behavioral health and home care organizations. He can be reached at djakubowicz@ntst.com.