In 2020, the structure and operations within the health care industry are changing. As the pandemic continues, health care providers and patients are quickly shifting to more automated processes and virtual platforms. Technology is becoming an integral part of medical practice and we expect this trend to continue.
At the same time, many medical practices are struggling financially. Patients are putting off non-emergency visits, checkups, and elective treatments; while doctors are restricting capacity in their offices and clinics and limiting in-person visits. The adoption of telehealth and telemedicine has no doubt helped physicians maintain a regular influx of patients and income, but has not brought in the same revenue. So, there is an increased reliance on outsourcing in order to decrease costs and operate more leanly.
For these reasons, technology has never been more important in the medical field. It is enabling increased efficiency and coordinated communications between healthcare providers. Now, more than ever, health information systems need to work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to provide the best possible care for individuals. In a time when medical organizations need to decrease costs, increase efficiency, and leverage telehealth technology, interoperability is critical to providing quality patient care. And this begins with EMR (or EHR) systems integration.
The Importance of EMR Integration and Interoperability in Health Care
The goal of interoperability is collecting data and ePHI from health insurance providers, health systems, and medical practitioners to improve patient diagnosis and treatment. Successful integration of EMR systems allows doctors to see and analyze information from all these different sources collected over time. With this rich digital record on hand, they can make educated clinical decisions in real-time. Patients can be treated anywhere in the country by doctors who have immediate access to their medical history…in theory.
In 2020, seamless patient care should be a reality, but it remains theoretical in many instances. Why? Because there are still significant challenges to EMR integration.
According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), interoperability permits:
- Users to exchange and use of electronic health information from different systems.
- Users to easily find and use information on both ends.
- Users to securely send and receive information from third-party systems.
In short, EMR systems integration allows healthcare operators to access clinical information from sources inside and outside the health system with the aim of delivering better treatment.
EMR Systems Integration Challenges
Research shows that interoperability significantly increases performance and efficiency in medical settings, yet less than 50% of health systems actually use integrated information. So, what are the factors inhibiting EMR integration?
According to EHR Intelligence, the largest difficulty stems from the established workflow. Some organizations still rely heavily, or in part, on paper documentation. Or, for example, clinics may not have enough laptops and tablets for each staff member, forcing doctors to wait their turn. They likely move on or put off reviewing patient records and documenting care to a later time. It’s easy to see how this defeats the purpose of having an EMR system in the first place and increases the risk for inaccuracy in patient medical records.
In order for the system to work well, hospitals, clinics, and practitioners’ offices need to set up their workflow with EMR integration in mind. Checking patient’s medical records from other providers and third parties, then updating them with current care, must be part of the routine process set for each staff member within the structure. For some this may require just a few small changes. For others, creating an EMR-based workflow may require starting from scratch.
Even when organizations within a healthcare network and third parties are using integrated electronic medical record systems, it doesn’t mean they’re using them in the same way. If one doctor enters diagnostic details in one field but another doctor expects to find that information in a different field, it presents a significant challenge to interoperability.
For shared data to have clarity and meaning, healthcare providers must agree to and follow standardized operations. As EMR interfaces continue to develop more seamless integrations, intuitive navigation, and UI/UX design, we expect these operational issues to become less of an obstacle.
The technological gap in patient-facing healthcare is getting smaller. But there are still plenty of legacy IT systems out there. Without the proper configuration, APIs, and security controls, medical practitioners can’t pull up the relevant information from third parties on the EMR user interface when it’s needed.
The good news is that healthcare IT regulators are encouraging technology updates and reliance on standardized protocols to support the free exchange of health data. Ongoing development and adoption of technology can only further EMR integration. EMR system interfaces are also becoming easier to use, allowing health care administrators to configure them in a way that decreases clutter from third parties and makes data, worklists, and alerts clearer.
Healthcare administrators may resist or delay EMR integration for a number of reasons, such as:
- Lack of cooperation among other key organizations, including partners, insurance companies, and vendors,
- Difficulty integrating with third-party sources, and
- Contractual limitations.
HIPAA and state privacy and security regulations work to ensure that medical organizations appropriately use and disclose PHI. Yet, these regulations shouldn’t be seen as a challenge to EMR integration. HIPAA and other laws have been designed to promote, rather than hinder, interoperability. Requesting HIPAA business associate agreements is recommended to avoid these types of administrative disagreements with third parties.
Call Management Services with EMR Integration
PatientCalls has an automated program interface (API), allowing our trained call agents to connect to your existing EMR system to retrieve and record data. Additionally, we will work with organizations, of any size, in the medical field to build a custom call forwarding plan based on your needs.