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Interoperability graphic

by Merry Enright
Published on November 15, 2019

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

At Winona Health, we exchanged more than a million pieces of data in the past year, which is a lot of information for a town of 27,000 people. We’re a nonprofit health care organization in Minnesota with more than 90 providers and 13 specialties, a 49-bed hospital and a 110-bed nursing home.

Its difficult to comprehend the sheer magnitude of data in various repositories throughout our health care system. Every day, my colleagues collect information about their patients and document each step of care. Patients also generate and transmit more and more health data through wearable devices, which we can use to improve the quality of care.

On the front lines, how can we as caregivers make sure our IT systems talk to each other, and that patient data is available and useful to the doctors, nurses, technicians and office staff who need it?

This month marks the one-year anniversary of CommonWell Health Alliance’s rollout of its connection to the Carequality Framework. It’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on how nationwide health IT connectivity can empower providers in accessing and using the data they need to provide the best care coordination, delivery and outcomes.

Winona Health was part of the initial pilot for this unprecedented connection. We realized the need to collaborate across the spectrum of care – from primary care offices to the hospital setting – both inside and outside of our organization. Through improved regional and national interoperability, we’ve taken steps to close gaps in care and reporting. Our experiences during the past three years and the results we’ve seen from our efforts can help others apply interoperability to their quality-care challenges. Here are five interoperability benefits to consider:

1. Eliminates double-checking data manually

Part of my day-to-day responsibilities include building, reviewing and validating our clinical reporting to match our claims. I constantly work to make sure these fields align. I’ve even had to write down names and have assistants search for that information in provider portals or paper documents.

This manual process can be especially challenging for entities that share a large number of patient referrals with other provider offices and hospitals. In talking with my peers from other organizations, I know my experience at Winona Health is not isolated. The same thing is happening at small and large health systems across the country.

We have a large commercial payer-insured population, and we’re always looking for ways to leverage our data to improve the reporting process. Access to external health data helps us reduce misreporting and gaps in the quality of care.

2. Strengthens care coordination, empowers patients and families

With up-to-date patient data at their fingertips, providers, patients and caregivers can make fully informed care decisions. People who have access to their own medical history and records can make more informed clinical decisions and become more empowered participants in their own care.

Rather than having referred patients sign into multiple portals and bring boxes of health records to their first appointment, interoperability gives us the ability to access patients’ records across care venues.

What previously was a manual process, now is searchable if we know the provider’s name. Who knew “Ctrl/cmd F” would be a clinician’s best friend?

3. Improves care safety and quality

Electronically accessible data helps ensure patients receive appropriate tests and medications, while avoiding duplication or conflicts. This data transparency translates to a better, safer and more efficient experience — key ways we can improve value-based care.

4. Increases efficiency and reduces costs

We’ve found that our enhanced ability to share relevant information, including patient matching and merging records across different doctors' offices and hospitals, helps reduce costs and saves time and resources for patients and insurers. Sharing records also helps us avoid duplicative services for clinical and administrative staff.

5. Develops robust national networks

The creation and sharing of aggregated patient health information across disparate electronic health record (EHR) vendors supports more accurate tracking and improved quality of care.

Following our 2017 implementation of CommonWell services, we immediately had access to our participating patients’ records across other venues of care, including from other EHRs using CommonWell. This allowed us to fill in missing pieces of a patient’s health history.

From primary care to the hospital setting, the data and results are there. Of course, interoperability is a two-way street. It’s important that all health care venues release patient information so we can provide the best patient-centered care possible.

The CommonWell connection to the Carequality framework is another crucial piece of that total picture. The connection links us to some of the remaining large EHR vendors, including Epic Systems Corp., Allscripts and others.

In turn, our patients who seek treatment at Mayo Clinic or Children’s Minnesota can know their doctors have access to their Winona Health records, and vice versa, which enables improved clinical decision making.

By sharing data more effectively, interoperable systems can help us significantly improve health outcomes, lower the cost of health care delivery and enhance the patient experience. And with easier access to data, everyone can be more engaged in their own health care. Although we’re celebrating the one-year anniversary of the CommonWell-Carequality connection general availability, the national movement toward true interoperability has been underway for some time. At Winona Health, we look forward to a future anniversary where we can say all patients have the peace of mind that comes from knowing we’re basing our health care decisions on the best and most complete information possible.

Cerner supports an open, collaborative environment that puts the patient first. Learn more here.

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