Achieving interoperability has been a significant hurdle for healthcare organizations for decades. In an effort to promote data sharing, CMS and ONC released their final interoperability rules in March. These rules fulfill the related provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act and will force providers, payers and health IT vendors to comply with new requirements that give patients greater access to their data.
With COVID-19 levying severe strain on the national healthcare system, the original CMS/ONC implementation timeline was relaxed. However, on June 30, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published the final rules in the Federal Register which means the compliance clock is ticking as parts of the rules begin going into effect this year.
As healthcare organizations affected by the rules are considering how they will facilitate these changes and reasonably comply with the mandates of these rules, it is also important to understand why these regulations are so mission critical. Prioritizing interoperability now will not only set organizations up for success once these rules go into effect, but allow them to reap long-term organizational efficiencies, enabling better handling of patient data exchange, public health reporting, and care management.
The Importance of Interoperability and Data Sharing
COVID-19 has emphasized the vital role bi-directional data exchange and interoperability plays across the continuum of care. The volume and frequency of data exchange being done as a result of COVID-19 is further highlighting the interoperability gaps that existed prior to the pandemic. Healthcare organizations that adopted minimal interoperability initiatives before the pandemic are now struggling to share and receive patient data.
There has never been a greater need for interoperability. Reporting data between emerging care settings and outside organizations like public health entities, are putting interoperability to the test. From increased use of telemedicine and virtual care tools to the launch of temporary testing sites and care centers, the pandemic has necessitated rapid scaling for IT infrastructures, underscoring the dire need for robust and effective data sharing.
The new interoperability rules focus on FHIR APIs in particular to enhance data sharing — FHIR and HL7 Version 2.x will be critical elements to improving interoperability during this health crisis. Had more sophisticated interoperability practices been more commonplace before COVID-19 hit, organizations would have been much better equipped to handle the increase in patient data exchange volume and variety. Now with the compliance dates set, it is time for providers and vendors to begin preparing for the upcoming enforcement of these rules.
How You Can Prepare
While these mandates may seem lofty, solutions are well within reach. Interoperability platforms, like Lyniate’s Rhapsody and Corepoint integration engines, allow providers to meaningfully exchange data between disparate systems. By implementing an interoperability layer, healthcare organizations will have the necessary tools to handle seamless data sharing across various organizations, IT systems and entities.
Health IT vendors should also be considering proactive ways to better support their provider-organization customers. Vendors need to focus on incorporating enhanced data integration capabilities into their products to make them compliant with the new rules.
The current health crisis is stretching healthcare organizations’ resources on various fronts, but it is critical that there is an industry-wide focus on adapting to meet the rules’ requirements. Healthcare organizations and health IT vendors need to work together to strengthen their infrastructures and products. Improved interoperability will be key to managing the spread of COVID-19 as well as future pandemics, and now is the time to take action.
For more on this topic, see:
- Webinar | CMS and ONC Rules: How’d We Get Here?
- Webinar | FHIR: 3 Real-World Scenarios
- HL7 FHIR Resource Library