Five Crucial Steps to Achieving Hospital Interoperability

Posted by Tom Stephenson on December 2, 2016

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Most hospital systems understand and accept that interoperability is an important step to improving staff performance and patient outcomes. Ensuring that technology is aligned through standardization and compatibility can help hospitals earn better HCAHPS scores and excel at value-based care.

As some systems have found out, though, agreeing with the concept of interoperability is much easier than implementing it effectively. A survey of 150 health executives conducted by the Advisory Board in 2015 identified some of the most challenging roadblocks to success. The top three were all in the same vein: driving clinical standardization, implementing system-wide physician alignment, and increasing IT interoperability.

With many hospitals struggling to achieve the same goals, we zeroed into hospital interoperability processes to identify five crucial steps for ensuring that your technology is fully cohesive and matches your vision for improved care delivery.

Choose the Right Point Person

This is the most important step. Charting a course for interoperability to take root and grow depends on having the right leader for the job. To embrace the age of IT interconnectivity and big data, hospitals need a leader immersed in the flow of information – someone who consistently seeks out and embraces innovation to foster change. This point person will have a strong vision and the communications skills needed to bring people together around that vision, delegate responsibility and drive change forward.

Develop Your Strategy

A strategic plan offers a roadmap of getting from point A (which, for most hospital systems, is a disjointed technology stack that often fails to facilitate effective outcomes or align all of your data) to point B (a hospital with an optimal technology alignment, where technology enables staff to perform better and executives to draw better insights). Change can be overwhelming, especially without buy-in from the necessary decision-makers or staff members, so creating a concrete plan allows everyone to review the vision and see a step-by-step breakdown on how the organization will work together to improve interoperability.

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Establish Standards With Vendors

To achieve interoperability requires compliance from third-party vendors providing your technology. According to a 2015 report by the American Hospital Association Interoperability Advisory Group, EHRs are like snowflakes, with little to no consistency. Whether their standards are specific or industry-wide, hospitals must provide specific vendor requirements for interoperability through procurement specifications and contract language. As Brian Murphy, an analyst for HIE Strategies and Technologies at Chilmark Research, stated in a recent article in HealthcareIT News, “the chief obstacle is existing provider-vendor business models and the lack of any carrot for sharing or stick for not sharing. Any carrots or sticks have only been nibbled around the edges so far.”

Explaining to vendors exactly what you’re looking for in information sharing and explaining how the data will be used should give them better insight into how to deliver technologies to meet your needs. A consultative vendor can work with you to understand your goals and identify the platforms that will enable you to reach them. Don’t forget to convey your standards for thorough testing -- you must make sure the end product works before implementation.

Identify The Right Technology

The Center for Medical Interoperability says “today’s lack of plug-and-play interoperability can compromise patient safety, impact care quality and outcomes, contribute to clinician fatigue and waste billions of dollars a year.” Whether you need changes from current vendors or to shop around for a new solution, hospitals must ensure that they’re embracing the right technology to become fully interoperable. 

The AHA interoperability study identifies four main areas in which hospitals face technology barriers preventing interoperability:

■ Inconsistent standards use

■ Insufficient testing of products

■ Little integration of medical devices

■ Poor usability

[GARTNER REPORT] Is nurse call still necessary? Get your technology right.

Implement The Infrastructure

Ideas are only as good as the infrastructure that allows them to succeed -- and the implementation process that brings everyone on board, comfortably. All too often, hospitals begin ambitious processes to improve IT platforms or other areas with obsolete or ineffective technology...only to cancel the rollout when objections arise. Ensuring buy-in with staff who will be using the technology is essential to seeing any strategy come to fruition. (Check out our interview with a C-suite tech leader on the importance of staff buy-in.)

The onboarding process is a crucial window for improving interoperability; with strong vendor support to address questions and concerns and offer advice, staff members are more likely to embrace the new technology -- which helps your system see the improved outcomes you desire.

Final touches to pulling together interoperability from the technology side may include efficient exchange networks and smooth patient record matching; basically, if you’re gathering all of the data, make sure it’s being pulled together consistently and accurately.


As a bonus final step, the AHA IAG report also mentions that hospitals who are in the process of becoming more interoperable share their progress, both pain points and successes. What steps have you taken to improve interoperability? What would you tell a hospital considering taking action on technology improvements? We're passionate about interoperability and committed to helping hospitals find solutions. If you'd like to share what you've done or you need ideas for how to get there, we would love to hear from you.

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