Veterans receive the best healthcare anywhere! I know what you’re thinking. Surely, it’s because the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has an excellent healthcare system with passionate employees and unwavering federal support.
While all of this is true...VA also happens to have top notch IT systems utilizing EHRs which allows VA to fluidly share medical information nationwide thanks in large part to...interoperability.
Today, interoperability is happening at scale. We see most healthcare organizations utilizing interoperable Electronic Health Records (EHRs), seamlessly sharing medical information when their patients move between providers.
Interoperability is important problem for healthcare organizations to solve because health care data is challenging to access and share in a secure manner. On the one hand patient data is sensitive and requires privacy and security, while on the other hand not having access to patient data when needed can result in negative healthcare outcomes for the patient.
So, when we talk about interoperability in healthcare, we are referring to the secure, yet timely, access and integration of EHRs and EHR processes.
“It will take time for all types of health IT to be fully interoperable. Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking out opportunities to accelerate and promote the development of interoperability across the health care system. When we achieve interoperability and widespread exchange of information, providers will have the infrastructure to deliver patient-centered, value-driven care that improves health outcomes while reducing costs.”
When it comes to the VA healthcare system, interoperable EHRs is what VA has established to enable sharing of medical information when Veterans move between providers, internally and externally.
How does this work? Glad you asked.
Internal, External, and Nationwide Interoperability
There is an old saying that goes, “When you have seen one VA, you have seen one VA.” Since VA implemented internal interoperability, aka allowing providers and patients to see their complete medical records, there has been congruency in medical care and treatment within the VA. Patients no longer need to carry the burden of forwarding medical records from VA facility to VA facility. Instead, the patient's medical records are shared automatically within VA through internal data interoperability to support consistent quality care.
External interoperability allows VA facilities to have access to DoD data as well as private sector data, if their community providers are connected to a national network. This is extremely helpful for VA patients! Unless they chose otherwise all Veterans who receive healthcare through VA now have their medical data securely accessed by all their healthcare professionals who can make better decision because they see their complete medical history.
Nationwide interoperability is a vision becoming reality thanks to the valuable efforts of the US Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare IT (ONC TEFCA)! The vision is for an information highway where a healthcare organization connects to all other healthcare organizations through a single onramp connection that enables them to retrieve, view, and utilize the entire medical history of individual patients. This information highway is made of network of networks, like the eHealth Exchange and others (the first 6 such networks were named recently - they are called Qualified Health Information Networks (QHINs)).
For instance, COVID information can be shared across the nation to support more accurate and complete statistical estimates and support data-driven public health decisions.
Not only does interoperability support patient care directly, but it also supports secondary uses for Health Information Exchange (HIE) data (such as quality measures, risk assessments, chronic disease management, and other use cases). The data exchanged is structured and coded, and therefore can be parsed and utilized to support patient and population health use cases.
Sound exciting? It is! Internal and external interoperability remains a key initiative for VA and community providers to enable better care for Veterans and all patients.
InnoVet Health has been helping VA with their HIE program since the onset of this initiative some 15 years ago, and continues today as an Oracle Cerner partner. In collaboration with ONC and Health Level 7 (HL7), we promoted the standards that support these exchanges and helped the industry take advantage of full interoperability and exploit HIE data for all the use cases relevant to their business.
By: Omar Bouhaddou, PhD (Co-Founder & CHIO of InnoVet Health)
InnoVet Health is an IT consultant company specializing in AI and business intelligence, digital services, and health interoperability founded by MIT-alumni & informatics experts. Learn more about us on our website or reach out on LinkedIn.