Interoperability: Humans or machines?

By Tom Hills  /  19 Aug 2014

For years, the healthcare industry has been struggling to achieve interoperability. It’s a goal that can improve clinician workflow, care coordination, patient care – even a hospital’s bottom line. Yet, despite pouring millions into EHRs, and investing time and resources into trying to get them to share information, we are still years away from achieving true interoperability.

From my perspective, we’re asking the wrong questions. We’ve been so focused on trying to get our machines to talk to one another that we’ve lost sight of the real goal: giving clinicians a way to collaborate and share information to improve patient care.

Instead of asking how we can make EHR A talk to EHR B, the industry needs to strive for the human-to-human communication that’s required to deliver coordinated patient care. This can happen by understanding and finding the best ways to allow physicians to talk and collaborate with one another. We need to think beyond machines, and start thinking about the people and their workflow.

There’s not just one way to achieve this. I’ve been talking about this topic with nurses, physicians and hospital leaders, and here’s what they’ve pointed out:

  1. Clinicians need to be able to communicate with each other rapidly and readily. They need to have a range of communication channels – from voice to text to video – to reach each other in the most convenient and useful way.
  2. Providers need to be able to distinguish between highly critical communications, and those that are of lower priority. Some types of communications require a physician to jump out of bed, while others can wait until morning. It’s important to be able to tell the difference.
  3. Clinicians need to know their message has been received. Some physicians I’ve talked to say they long for the old way of updating the patient’s record While it seems strange to wish for a pen and some paper, at least they knew the next clinician would read their message.

Technology interoperability is critical in order for the healthcare industry to fully embrace population health programs that will be so transformative for patient care. But first we need to get back to the basics, and make it easier for people to connect with one another. Everything else will follow soon enough.

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