By Dr. Ron Moody

Federal Health agencies and administrators are seeking to navigate the shift to care models that are more data-driven, patient-centric, cost-efficient and driven by technology. Bringing about this shift means connecting the dots and pulling together disparate pieces of health information to inform care. While we’ve seen progress in the sharing of electronic health records among different stakeholders, the refinement and execution needs massive improvement to be useful toward transforming Healthcare delivery and outcomes.

Data interoperability will create standards and processes to make at least vital medical information highly accessible and inter-connected between Healthcare IT systems. That information, however, is not likely to be useful to providers and Healthcare staff unless significant planning occurs and processes change. Achieving meaningful interoperability compels a level of transformation that goes beyond technology and standards. It requires process, policy and cultural changes that focus on empowering the patient and improving outcomes.

Interoperability isn’t an outcome, as much as it is a tool that can help change the way Healthcare is delivered. A recent Accenture study found that approximately 70 percent of all consumers are interested in receiving a range of health and care services virtually, yet only 20 percent have experienced virtual Healthcare, foreshadowing an explosion of medical data flowing to providers.

Additionally, the rise of digital technologies has increased the ease of capture, use, and sharing of patient-generated data from health tools such as online questionnaires, personal health records, mobile apps, wearables, connected medical devices, and their access to medical documentation from their multiple Healthcare providers.

When it comes to Healthcare, the great expense of implementing EHRs and data capture (by clicks and others) has yet to transform medical treatment on a grand scale. In fact, the technology implementation has had some negative impacts on Healthcare. The good news is that we are on the path to improved data interoperability which has the potential to lead to a more collaborative relationship between patients and clinicians and to empower patients to actively engage in monitoring their own health.

Government agencies can and should take the lead in not only driving data connection and interoperability to ensure access to extremely high volumes of data, but also in ensuring that software plans, data handling, and workflow around the availability of this data leads to productive and efficient support of Healthcare operations and the support of patient health. This is not about implementing or evolving a comprehensive EHR system, but about levering data available through interoperability within EHR workflows, as well as supporting Healthcare beyond the in-person office visit and outside traditional Healthcare. The concept of a virtual longitudinal Healthcare record relies on the foundation of meaningful interoperability, which has the potential to improve access, lower cost, streamline processes and enhance patient care and outcomes.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is just one of the Federal agencies poised to capitalize on the recent data explosion, delivering Healthcare and treatment to Veterans at the highest level. Meaningful interoperability begins with the end in mind. What problems do you want to solve with interoperable data? How will you ensure that workflows and clinical efficiency (outcomes/cost) are improved? What actions are you taking to avoid more clinical staff frustration and burnout over IT? Mission clarity is critical to ensure preferred outcomes.

Broad interoperability introduces a wide variety of data into the care process from diverse sources. Formal standards and guidelines need to be developed on how and where this data will be stored and accessed. A clear policy about when and how data becomes part of the legal medical record is needed as it impacts workflow and legal retention requirements.

Emphasis should be on developing high-value use cases from the beginning, prioritized to achieve highest clinical and business value. This can bring about three consequential outcomes:

  • It accelerates value. Health and financial benefits realized early on can identify opportunities to additional funding in future use cases.
  • Quick wins that breed success. Teams tend to thrive on the fuel of success; effort will sustain when it seems they are adding value.
  • The prospect of risk reduction. Efficiency comes with a sharp focus on prioritized use cases, lowering the likelihood of project failure.

The core challenge rests less with moving patient information between endpoints, and more with what becomes of that information once it reaches its destination.

Facilitating this kind of functionality means incorporating human-centered design methodologies. Focusing on a people first strategy – specifically, the needs of the end user – requires developing interfaces between EHRs and other key systems. This will ensure that data is available in the time, manner, format and actionability to empower the patient and improve clinical staff performance.

Data has the power to transform the treatment provided to our military, our Veterans and countless Americans. It is not too much to ask that providers have access to accurate information from the right source at the moment they need it. It is time to turn the dream of adapting medical information in real time into reality.

Dr. Ron Moody is currently the Chief Medical Officer at Accenture Federal Services. He is a retired Army Colonel who served for more than two decades. Dr. Moody is board-certified in family medicine with a broad background in medicine, clinical operations, Healthcare administration, strategic planning, and health information technology.

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