The impact of interoperability: 3 key survey results and insights
Healthcare interoperability is all about having the most accurate, up-to-date patient health data when and where needed across the care spectrum. It involves the multilateral sharing of relevant clinical information with post-acute care (PAC) partners (e.g., physician summaries, medical records, laboratory results, medication lists, etc.) regardless of platform or vendor. Achieving interoperability requires providers to share and apply data in real-time for improved care, accelerated workflows, and streamlined business processes. By pivoting toward a patient-driven system that “talks” to other health information systems, agencies can eliminate gaps in care that undermine patient outcomes and challenge business efficiency. In turn, these agencies can outcompete their peers for more and better relationships with referral sources.
To get a sense of where care providers are in their quest to understand the impact of interoperability and adopt scalable EHR technology that ensures a seamless transition to interoperability, MatrixCare commissioned Porter Research to conduct a study of referring physicians and PAC providers in 2019. The research firm performed a follow-up study in late 2020 to see if and how attitudes changed around the topic. During a recent Post-acute Point of View podcast Navin Gupta, senior vice president and Home and Hospice Division head at MatrixCare, and Nick Knowlton, vice president of Strategic Initiatives at ResMed, discussed the interoperability survey results. The results revealed both progress and some existing gaps between the availability of healthcare data and the ability of home healthcare organizations to access data on incoming patients and share data in return. To provide clarity around the survey results, we have highlighted some of the key findings which reveal the impact of interoperability.
1. Awareness of interoperability and its significance to the home healthcare continuum has increased dramatically.
It’s important to acknowledge that home health and hospice care have reached an inflection point. Notwithstanding the challenges presented over the past year due to a global pandemic, healthcare regulations and innovation have caused seismic shifts in how care is delivered. The need for greater transparency and engagement across the care continuum has reinforced the need for and importance of interoperability. And care providers—most notably, PAC providers—appear to be coming to terms with this reality.
In the initial study from 2019, only 34 percent of PAC providers understood how important interoperability was to their referral sources. Our report reveals that 95 percent of the participating PAC providers now believe interoperability is critical to their referral partners—a percentage that is nearly three times higher over just a 12-month period. Additionally, 85 percent of PAC providers claim they can accept admission, discharge, and transfer data, with 72 percent reporting they accept clinical information in some format—albeit, largely in non-discrete, document-level formats.
“One of the more shocking numbers that stood out to us in the data is that jump in recognition of the importance of interoperability amongst the post-acute providers in the survey. Our industry is really catching on,” said Knowlton. “Interoperability is extremely important to referral sources, and therefore, to their agency partners. There’s a growing awareness of the importance of interoperability for how we need to scale care delivery in this country. So, I really view that change from 34 percent to 95 percent as validation of what we’ve seen emerging in these as trends in other care settings for years.”
2. As referral sources grow more demanding, home healthcare providers must prioritize interoperability to remain competitive.
Referral sources are more likely to partner with home health providers who meet their interoperability standards. Roughly 74 percent of health systems and physician groups would send more referrals to post-acute care providers who have interoperable systems in place. This is up from more than 60 percent of home-based care referral sources last year—further demonstrating the growing importance of interoperability.
By comparison, home health agencies that use more traditional referral methods (e.g., fax, phone, email) are at a disadvantage compared to agencies that use EHR platforms to automate the referral process. Automating referrals helps to reduce the amount of paperwork on file and the risk of data entry errors. As more referral sources expect automation from their referral partners, the need for providers to adopt technology that helps them meet interoperability standards will be critical to their ongoing success.
“Either agencies begin to take advantage of these opportunities to connect, or other groups that they compete with are going to get there first,” said Knowlton. “For any new trend, you have to have awareness before growth, and we are seeing in real-time post-acute care providers catch up on how much their referral sources value interoperability.”
3. Patient expectations are shifting, with a greater focus on data accessibility.
According to Knowlton, patients are waking up to the potential of interoperability. In acute and ambulatory care settings, patients expect greater access to their health data to truly participate in their health journey. This need for greater access to health data for patients and their family members has been most evident during the pandemic. During the height of the pandemic, access to medical facilities was limited; therefore, acute and ambulatory care patients and their families often had to rely on electronic means to stay abreast of current health statuses or changes in care planning. That trend is also taking shape in the post-acute care setting.
“During the pandemic, patients became much more accustomed to portal and app-based means of communicating with their care providers. The rise of the patient as a consumer in post-acute is here. They have access in other care settings and are demanding similar experiences with post-acute care,” Knowlton said. The question for post-acute care providers is whether their current EHR platform delivers the type of visibility and access to patient data that fully meets the definitions of modern interoperability. Is the power of interoperability being unlocked in the post-acute EHR?
4. Sharing patient health data across care settings is imperative
The healthcare landscape is always changing. And interoperability is another evolution in healthcare that requires providers to rethink how they administer care and function as a business. For the post-acute care provider, fitting into this new world and understanding the impact of interoperability requires adopting and implementing an EHR system that communicates with other health IT systems. The ability to access and share patient data not only helps to meet interoperability standards and expectations. It also positions providers to provide better care, improve care transitions, and enhance care coordination—bridging the gap in post-acute care delivery and aligning themselves for future success.