The Connected Healthcare System: Interoperability Impacts the Way Clinicians Work

Interoperability has been a trending buzzword for several years, and early hopes suggested it would be far more advanced than it is today.   According to HIMSS,  interoperability is defined as systems and devices being able to exchange data, and interpret that shared data so it can be understood by the user.  In the healthcare industry, interoperability is key to establishing secure electronic exchange of healthcare information that will result in informed decision making and improve the overall health of our population.

In the vision driven by healthcare reform, a patient could see a specialist in a clinic, undergo a procedure in a nearby hospital, and receive follow-up care in a rehabilitation facility, and in each care site, the patient’s electronic health records are easily accessible, regardless of the health information system deployed at each site. Physicians could look up outcomes data specific to their region and adjust treatment plans based on the information.

Improving Clinician Workflow Through Interoperability

While there is still a long way to go before the vision described above becomes reality, we’re beginning to see examples in the hospital setting of multiple systems “talking to each other” in a way that is improving the way clinicians work.

For example, EHR systems are being integrated with automated dispensing cabinets to create a better medication administration process for nurses.

By connecting these two systems, nurses can work within the EHR to select medications for their patients, rather than having to switch back and forth between the EHR and medication dispensing system. They will have all the real-time patient data at hand, such as pain scale and lab values, when selecting medications.

This interoperability enables nurses to do more of the medication management tasks within the EHR rather than at the dispensing cabinet, delivering these benefits:

  •  Saves time spent at the dispensing cabinet, helping to get medications to patients earlier
  • Eliminates the need to transfer or re-enter data from one system to another, ensuring accuracy
  • Supports improved patient experience by increasing time at the bedside

Additional Benefits

While this is just one small example of interoperability between different vendor systems, the benefits of interoperability for nurses cannot be understated.

Currently, nurses spend more than a quarter of their day away from patients due to regulatory requirements, redundant paperwork and logistical challenges. With information requirements in multiple locations, nurses are required to visit (and login to) multiple applications in order to complete their tasks.

Greater interoperability not only enables nurses to spend more time with patients, but also ensures accuracy of information between systems and saves time by simplifying processes on the hospital floor.

Pharmacists are also benefiting from improved communications across multiple systems.  When EHRs communicate, pharmacists can get access to patient health information such as discharge medication lists, reconciled medication lists and lab results, which will help them assess medication use.

Please share your views on the current state of interoperability.  Should we be further along?  What else can be done to ensure interoperability is consistent across the industry?

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