Providers underwhelmed by interoperability

It may not come as any surprise: Electronic health record vendors don't play well with others. At least that's according to healthcare providers who say, in the lion's share of cases, their EHR is not interoperable with others.

So finds a new report put out by health IT research firm KLAS, which underscores a less than ideal reality: In excess of $25 billion in EHR incentives has been paid out to providers and hospitals to subsidize these behemoth EHR systems, which, in most cases, don't talk to each other. In fact, less than half of providers say their EHR vendor is interoperable with other vendors, according to the KLAS data.
Perhaps even equally as striking is the fact that only 20 percent of providers are "optimistic" about vendor collaboration initiatives – for instance the CommonWell Health Alliance, which bills itself as an independent trade association composed of health IT vendors.
There appears to be some good news in the report, however. Despite the fact most providers say their EHR vendors don't "cooperate well with others," the majority of providers – some 82 percent – say they have been at least "moderately successful" with interoperability due primarily to their own efforts.
"There has been a lot of public discussion about the lack of interoperability among (EHR) vendors," said report author Colin Buckley, in an Oct. 7 press statement announcing the report. "The truth is that most providers feel at least moderately successful with interoperability today, but most say that success is due to their own efforts. They wonder how well prepared their vendor will be for the future."
Some industry leaders have said that to move this interoperability needle in any meaningful way, particularly with getting vendors on board, it's going to take action on the part of the federal government.
Just last month, CMIOs and CIOs held a press briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss what they'd like to see from the policy side.
"Where are the teeth with interoperability?" asked Marc Probst, CIO of Intermountain Healthcare, at the press briefing Sept. 16. "With meaningful use, we had teeth. We had something we could get out there. We had benefits, incentives, and we had penalties."
It's important to keep in mind, he added, that the lack of progress on interoperability is not just due to the vendors. "These are really highly structured, difficult complex systems that were built, most of them, quite a long time ago, so it's going to take some work for them to get to interoperability," added Probst. "We haven't provided them any guidance." And that's something that needs to change.
Probst, a member of the Health IT Policy Committee, has been one of the most outspoken voices on the topic of interoperability advancement. "It does all come down to these fundamental standards," he added. "We've got to sit down and say,'what's the standard, and how are we gonna move it?'"
HIMSS also has pressed HHS for big time changes with interoperability in recent weeks. Late last month HIMSS CEO H. Stephen Lieber and Paul Kleeberg, MD, board director chair, in a Sept. 30 letter to HHS recommended HHS consider additional incentives – both federal and private and policy levers to spur interoperability progress industrywide.
Among their recommendations: "Support the use of public and private policy levers beyond MU to foster interoperability and exchange," they wrote.