Practice Notes

Weighing the importance of EMR interoperability

Anita Joseph

Long a concern of providers, the topic of EMR interoperability recently gained political heft.

In mid-April, six Republican senators presented a whitepaper to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius inquiring about the progress of the Health Information Technology and Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. The whitepaper’s main concern was the inability to smoothly share information between the major EMR products. The senators seek a path toward interoperability—not only through alignment in the EMR software code—but also in form and use of medical terminology.

This subject has been on the mind of EMR vendors as well. In March, six vendors—Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway, and RelayHealth—announced they will collaborate to work toward stronger data liquidity standards.

Does interoperability really have a brighter future?

In a Senate Finance Committee hearing that touched on the whitepaper, Sebelius implied that the implementation of Meaningful Use (MU) Stage 2 would indeed place greater emphasis on interoperability, which she called the “northstar” of EMRs. However, providers' push to delay Stage 2 implementation makes it unclear how important interoperability will be in the future.

Moreover, the vendor collective notably excludes Epic Systems, which is reported to have contracts to provide records for half of the US (a recent survey of our members found that 34% of participating medical groups are Epic users). Epic's CEO, Judy Faulkner, claims: “we did not know about it. We were not invited…It appears on the surface to be used as a competitive weapon and that’s just wrong. It’s wrong for the country.”

Questioning the effectiveness of EMRs

The concerns over interoperability are part of a growing discussion about the effectiveness of EMRs. Recent media coverage has raised concern that MU incentives have encouraged providers to invest in systems that still have a number of shortcomings.

For medical groups, however, the point may be irrelevant. Since many have already made the investment, the bigger question is how to maximize the effectiveness of the systems they have in place today.

Learn More

Want more information on EMRs? Read our recent posts on EMR rollout and optimization.

In addition, our current national meeting series covers best practices to help medical groups optimize their use of the ambulatory EMR. Register now.

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