As the new year begins, significant challenges still plague EHR in 2017.
Interoperability remains only a dream for many practices. EHR system vendors continue to work on the problem, but technological limitations still oppose attempts to allow EHR programs to communicate with each other.
Security and privacy laws intended to protect patient information sometimes create unnecessary barriers for health information exchanges, preventing new exchanges from from forming. Staff and clinician training issues continue to interfere with attempts to expand the use of EHR systems and bring needed transformation to healthcare IT. Practices continue to experience all of these challenges.¹
As vendors and clinic staff make EHR systems a more significant aspect of healthcare, these challenges may become weaknesses that damage the usefulness of EHR software in the short run. EHR software still has significant opportunity ahead to improve efficiency, provide better access to healthcare information, and offer higher-quality care. The biggest challenge for EHR in 2017 will be fulfilling these promises.¹
Right now, many EHR systems struggle to transmit information and effectively communicate with programs offered by different vendors. Each clinic and hospital that uses a different system contributes to a patchwork of software that has yet to seamlessly operate together. As a result, many practices are unable to reach the information they need to provide quality patient care. Patients may not be able to send their healthcare records from their primary care physician to specialists, or from one clinic to another when they relocate to another healthcare home.¹
While the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) did create incentives to use interoperable EHR, technical, and training problems prevent these features from being as useful as they could be. Security and privacy laws present other challenges.¹
Security and privacy laws
The intent of security and privacy regulation is to prevent unauthorized disclosure of healthcare information. This positive intent, in practice, makes exchanging healthcare information more difficult.
Providing lawful access does create a disclosure of health information, even if it is lawful to do so. These disclosures often follow regulatory processes designed to keep legal disclosure from becoming another means of stealing patient information. While many of these protective measures are necessary, they can still slow down interoperable use and render it less effective.¹
Sometimes, a vendor or another provider will deliberately refuse to offer access to healthcare information or will charge a significant use fee whenever access to information is to be reasonably expected and is justified under the law. This is sometimes referred to as data blocking.
In such circumstances, these vendors and providers may effectively prevent patients from accessing and using their own personal healthcare information. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) discourages data blocking, although some industry groups, such as the Electronic Health Record Association (EHRA), disagree with how the ONC defines this term and defend the right of vendors to charge fees for accessing certain information.
Right now, the practice of data blocking remains one reason full interoperability has not arrived yet for many health practices.²
Create a thriving EHR system
The healthcare industry still struggles with these challenges, but there are some steps your clinic can take to improve your EHR system. If you are concerned about interoperability at your own clinic, doing your own research can help.
Find out how your vendor handles information requests and make an effort to choose reputable software. From the start, ask questions about how your software communicates with other platforms.³
Once you commit to a particular vendor and their software, obtain the training you and your practice needs to thrive.
¹Heath, S. “Health IT Use, Data Exchange Top 2017 Challenges for HHS.” EHR Intelligence. https://ehrintelligence.com/news/health-it-use-data-exchange-top-2017-challenges-for-hhs. Published: November 2016. Accessed: December 2016.
²Heath, S. “How Do Different Health Industry Experts View Data Blocking?” EHR Intelligence. https://ehrintelligence.com/news/how-do-different-health-industry-experts-view-data-blocking. Published: March 2016. Accessed: December 2016.
³Enderle, R. “6 Things to Know About Choosing a New IT Vendor.” CIO. http://www.cio.com/article/2465172/budget/6-things-to-know-about-choosing-a-new-it-vendor.html. Published: August 2016. Accessed: December 2016.