The pandemic has forced provider organizations to finally take the plunge into the deep end of telemedicine. Many organizations had been gradually introducing various kinds of virtual care tools, but as COVID-19 made face-to-face interactions unsafe, health systems and practices had to dramatically accelerate their use of alternative care options and settings.
This speedy adoption has not been without its growing pains, which includes adopting virtual care apps for the entire patient pool. Providers are leaning on telehealth to treat the bulk of their patients, requiring them to deploy tools such as patient portals and apps, online prescription renewals and appointments, and secure email for more patients than ever.
The increase in the volumes of data to be integrated and tools to be connected has presented significant challenges, especially for organizations that lack strong interoperability tools in their IT infrastructures.
Another interoperability challenge providers have faced during the COVID pandemic is connecting to new and temporary sources of data and locations. From transforming sports centers into temporary coronavirus triage centers to drive through testing sites, the need for sharing data to and from these novel locations is ramping up quickly.
The data from these new locations must seamlessly integrate with other data sets to make the information valuable for patients (connecting with their EHRs to help inform diagnosis and treatment), as well as the public health institutions (informing community leaders for their response to the pandemic).
But how do provider organizations create strong IT infrastructure during the pandemic?
Provider organizations can start by implementing a core interoperability layer, such as an integration engine like Corepoint or Rhapsody, so that interoperability across apps and locations no longer has to be built out on a piecemeal basis. This approach is highly adaptable, scalable, and does the heavy lifting to facilitate interoperability between disparate tools and data sets (EHRs, patient portals, billing systems, imaging machines, etc.), creating meaningful, accurate, and actionable collaboration for providers, patients, and even public health officials.
Adopting the latest FHIR standard for APIs is another mission-critical step for provider-organizations to improve the continuity of care across apps and other systems, including telehealth. FHIR technology is a well-established, web-based standard that is well-suited to rapid fire settings, making it an ideal standard for the telehealth, where quick virtual appointments and other communications are increasingly important. The ONC has required FHIR capabilities in its recent information blocking rule, making FHIR adoption doubly essential to provider-organizations.
Meeting these challenges should not be up to provider organizations alone. Health IT vendors have also seen the critical need to embrace more fundamental interoperability, including real use of FHIR and not just vague compliance claims. If they are focused on supporting their provider-organization customers through this pandemic and beyond, they will want to provide the right technology to easily share data between telehealth platforms, patient portals, EHRs, external testing technology, and more.
The pandemic has been a wakeup call for many on the need for telehealth tools and flexible information sharing capabilities in healthcare, science, and medicine. Vendors and healthcare organizations which invest in robust interoperability infrastructures will be best positioned to meet the demands of the crisis at hand, and in doing so, prepare for the inevitable challenges of the future.
For further reading:
Video: Integration in Telehealth