Blog » EHR Makers, Users Pledge Allegiance to Interoperability

EHR Makers, Users Pledge Allegiance to Interoperability

Created Sep 12 2016, 08:00 PM by Lippincott Solutions
  • AHA
  • American Hospital Association
  • interoperability
  • electronic health record (EHR)
  • American Nurses Association
  • ANA

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

“United we stand, divided we fall” is a motto that has been around since Aesop, and its truth is as relevant today as ever. When individuals work together and coordinate their steps toward a specific goal, success is much more likely than when everyone haphazardly does their own thing.

Take electronic health record (EHR) technology, for instance. In theory, the technology has the potential to improve patient care and outcomes exponentially. Complete patient records — anywhere — at the touch of a button, alerts and reminders syncing conveniently to smart phones and tablets, and enhanced efficiency and accuracy are all visions that once danced in informatics nurses’ heads.

Unfortunately, we’re not there yet.  Somewhere in the rush of scrambling to create the best EHR systems complete with one-of-a-kind bells and whistles, the developers left out an essential component: interoperability. Without the ability of all those EHR systems to communicate and exchange information with one another, their overall value to the big healthcare picture fizzles.

 “The lack of interoperability,” the American Hospital Association explains in its 2015 report Why Interoperability Matters, “shows up in many ways every day at hospitals across the country:

• Critical fields in a care summary are missing when a nurse at the receiving hospital opens and reviews it.

• Values in a lab report incorrectly appear in the wrong section.

• Inability to share details about care provided to a patient in a hospital with subsequent providers, such as a skilled nursing facility, inpatient rehabilitation facility or home health agency.

• A specialist’s report to a hospital that somehow turns from English into gibberish.”

For those who had hoped for better, today’s EHR reality is less a dream and more a nightmare.


That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement earlier this year at the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference created a bit of a buzz. The companies that provide a whopping 90 percent of the EHR systems used by U.S. hospitals had agreed to an interoperability pledge.

Specifically, the developers promised to:

  • free up patient access to electronic health information by using standardized application programming interfaces and a single shared standard for communication with one another,
  • not knowingly block electronic health information from being shared among providers, and
  • embrace recognized interoperability standards, policies, guidance and practices for electronic health information.

“These commitments are a major step forward in our efforts to support a healthcare system that is better, smarter and results in healthier people,” said Sylvia M. Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “Technology isn’t just one leg of our strategy to build a better healthcare system for our nation, it supports the entire effort. We are working to unlock healthcare data and information so that providers are better informed and patients and families can access their healthcare information, making them empowered, active participants in their own care.”


The interoperability pledge has also earned endorsement from large, private healthcare systems operating in 46 states. Professional groups, too, including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association (ANA) have also backed the movement, signing the pledge themselves.

In a letter to the National Coordinator for Health Information technology, the ANA called the three promises within the pledge “foundational to the success of delivery system reform.”

The federal government agrees.

“The future of the nation’s health delivery system is one where electronic health information is unlocked and shared securely, yet seamlessly, to put patients at the center of their own care,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, national coordinator for health information technology. “The broad agreement by leaders in health and health IT across the nation brings us much closer to our vision for a truly learning, connected health system.”

 At least one healthcare publication took a more cynical approach. In the Modern Healthcare article “HIMSS’ Interoperability: Another Year, Another Promise,” reporter Joseph Conn wrote that “ [the] pledge smacked of a standard public relations move by a government agency — in this case the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology — charged with ensuring taxpayer financing generates the desired results.”

But even that piece included hope for better days ahead.

“It's unethical and immoral to withhold information,” Zane Burke, president of pledge-signer Cerner, told the magazine. “If you're not interoperable in the next 5 years, you'll be obsolete.”

What kind of EHR system does your facility use?  Is it interoperable with other systems?  Leave us a comment! 

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