Why We Need Medical Interoperability


Interoperability in a hospital today

We’re all familiar with the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

This picture drove the discussion during our recent “Innovate, Design, Engage, and Advance” (IDEA) event on how medical interoperability can improve patient safety and lower costs. The photo was taken by a West Health staff member and shows her father in an intensive care room in a hospital, surrounded by a multitude of machines and devices that were not interoperable and did not share his information with each other.

Stories like the one depicted in the photograph of our colleague’s father inspire all of us at West Health. And, that’s why we are passionate about catalyzing an interoperable health care system. We want health care to work smarter, not harder.

Our IDEA series brought together two of the brightest minds in health care — Dr. Michael Johns, chairman of the newly-formed Center for Medical Interoperability and former chancellor of Emory University; and Dr. Jeffrey Balser, vice chancellor of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). With Gienna Shaw, editor-in chief of FierceHealthcare and FierceHealthIT moderating, we discussed the efforts by West Health and the new nonprofit Center for Medical Interoperability to drive rapid, widespread and sustained interoperability, where information moves seamlessly from device to device and across systems.

We talked about how people are currently frustrated by their inability to communicate with the health care system and by the redundancy that often comes with seeking care. Patients are often faced with doctors asking the same questions about their history instead of sharing records with one another.

“It’s my data. It’s not my doctor’s, not my hospitals – it’s my data,” said Dr. Johns. “And I want it to be where it needs to be when I’m receiving health care.”

On the other side, care coordinators are increasingly frustrated by the technology they are asked to integrate into their systems. Many of the electronic health records (EHRs) are badly constructed, requiring one screen to display the information and a separate screen to enter new data, Dr. Balser explained. “That disconnect is a big problem,” he said.

I talked about the need to create an interoperable workflow so that nurses who currently spend 35 percent of their time doing administrative work, much of it transcribing information from different machines, could instead focus on direct patient care. We agreed that the examples of inefficiencies in health care today are many and, while solutions are not going to be immediate, there are potential game-changing efforts underway.

Led by hospital CEOs, the creation of this singularly focused and collaborative Center marks a defining next step to bring about systemic change in health care that improves patient safety and lowers costs. “We’re mobilizing the procurement power of providers to enact change,” said Dr. Johns.

We believe patients deserve better health care than what they’re currently getting. That’s the picture we all want to see.