ORLANDO, Fla. — Of all the top priorities of the health technology industry, interoperability is one of the driest. It’s wonky. It’s technical. It takes a parcel to explain.
But at this year’s HIMSS conference, interoperability is getting a facelift and gaining attention as companies face a new marketing challenge: getting hospitals and clinics to embrace the data-sharing technology that Federal rules have required vendors to adopt.
In the bustling exhibition space, tour guides lead attendees twice per hour in a maze of elaborate sets involving more than a dozen fictional patients, carefully crafted to portray a vision of a world with seamless communication between patients, their providers, and the payers who foot the bill.
In one, employees from health records companies like Epic and NextGen step into the role of doctors, payers and care managers, clicking through screens of disparate software systems that all connect. to share information about Donnie, a 75-year-old morbidly obese man, initially discharged from a hospital and ultimately admitted to a skilled nursing facility. In another room, Cerner’s health record connects to technology from Redhat and Trisotech to automatically detect human trafficking in the emergency department. Interested viewers can scan a QR code, easily showing them how to replicate the system in their own hospitals.
These often painstakingly detailed scenarios – several minutes are spent discussing exactly how a skilled nursing facility might turn away patient Donnie in the event that all of his beds are full – attempt to crystallize all the benefits of a patient data stream. transparent for providers who are reluctant to take on new technologies: quick and easy referrals to specialists, fast insurance pre-authorization requests, instant communication with home care aides and skilled nursing facilities, better patient access to their own health records.
They are also part of an effort by the companies that sell these technologies to signal the value of a years-long lopsided policy discussion in Washington about common health data standards for providers and patients across the country. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Informatics of the Department of Health and Human Services, which largely regulates interoperability, helped coordinate vignette featuring Donnie.
“A lot of what we’ve been working on, for decades, is now coming to fruition,” said Sam Lambson, vice president of interoperability at Cerner, who also participated in the showcase. But vendors, he said, “have a lot of obligations to do their part in adopting certified technology.”
Several of the building blocks of interoperability — usually regulated by the ONC — are beginning to come into effect. A provision stemming from the 21st Century Cures Act prohibiting health record providers and other software developers from blocking the transfer of patient data went into effect in April. By October, at maintain federal certificationproviders and developers will need to make more protected health information available to patients electronically.
Part of the goal of highlighting the benefits of interoperability, Lambson said, is to “get this certified technology into the hands of vendors and give them the time and space to implement things.” and learn what kind of opportunities they open up.”
Epic, a Cerner competitor and the biggest player in the EHR market, is undertaking a similar campaign to introduce its existing customers and other vendors to new features they can request to facilitate data sharing. “I want them to know this exists so they go to their suppliers and ask for it,” said Matt Doyle, head of research and development team at Epic. “I also want suppliers to hear it so they realize there is a way to solve these problems, and it’s standards-based.”
This isn’t the first such “interoperability showcase” – HIMSS has held data sharing demos for years – but this year features the most diverse set of vendors and settings. The rooms are designed to immerse the viewer in an almost real health care workflow, said Christina Caraballo, who curated this year’s exhibit. The fictional patients, she added, make the discussion of common data standards less abstract. “It’s about the stories that go with the technology.”
However, as transparent data sharing becomes more mainstream, the splashy package could fall apart. “Maybe we won’t need an interoperability showcase in a few years,” Lambson said.
Even companies not directly involved in the showcase tell STAT that they are increasingly highlighting the benefits of interoperability for vendors in their marketing pitches. Sandeep Gupta, who co-founded Innovaccer, a health data company that helps providers and payers bring together information from disparate sources, including health records, said recent federal data-sharing rules illustrate “the ground the way it should be, not the sky”.