Interoperability: What Boards Need to Know


What is interoperability?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers defines interoperability as the “ability of a system or a product to work with other systems or products without special effort on the part of the customer.” For hospitals and health systems interoperability means applying this concept to the sharing of information in electronic health records (EHRs) and other health information through a fluid process that gives multiple providers in multiple locations actionable information to support safe and quality care and to engage patients in their own care. Interoperability also enables providers to protect the public health by reporting a wide variety of data to county, state and federal authorities.

Challenges facing hospitals & health systems

Interoperability requires linking information systems within the hospital, the hospital system and other entities, such as physicians’ offices, state and local public health agencies, health information exchanges and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, there is no superhighway to do so and, as a result, hospitals must employ a wide variety of workarounds, resulting in incomplete information sharing and significant costs.

Most hospitals can send and receive data via an EHR using a Web portal, or through a health information exchange (HIE) – a system that allows clinical information to be shared across multiple providers in a region or state. However, substantial barriers to effective information sharing and use exist. As the chart at right indicates, only 40 percent of hospitals can use the information they receive, meaning that patient records are integrated into the hospital’s EHR without the need for manual data entry. Only about a quarter of all hospitals can find, send, receive and use electronic information.

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