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Physician EMRs Can Accelerate Integration Innovation
By Eliot Muir

Social networks, tablets, and trends, including the consumerization of IT and BYOD (bring your own device), are driving technology innovation. These trends are encouraging vendors to invest in technologies and deliver solutions that enable everyday consumers to work more effectively. Despite the shift toward easy-to-comprehend and easy-to-use technology, the HIT industry, especially with respect to healthcare integration technologies, continues to lag behind.

The following are some factors that are hampering HIT innovation:

• Centralized decision making: Decision making in healthcare is highly centralized, with those selecting the technology rarely using it. These buyers are also risk averse, preferring to buy solutions that are tried and tested and comply with government regulations. Ensuring the quality of software products or buying state-of-the-art products is the least of their priorities. Inadvertently, they are fostering an environment that does not encourage technical innovation and progress. The end result is often a mishmash of technologies that cannot communicate with each other.

• Non-interoperable systems and standards: Integration of any kind provides tremendous benefits to an organization. It saves the organization hours of reentering data into different systems. It also helps rapidly correlate and cross-reference information, creating numerous efficiencies. However, in the healthcare industry, there is no real incentive for vendors to make their services interoperable. In fact, the more interoperable the tools, the easier it is for organizations to swap one for another. To safeguard their revenues, many companies steer clear of building interoperable tools on purpose, leaning toward closed system design.

• Outdated and legacy systems: In many hospitals worldwide, older organizations are running integration engines built more than a decade ago. These engines were built when bandwidth and CPU power were a fraction of what is now available. When they were designed, organizations couldn’t imagine the current integration landscape. In today’s rapidly changing IT environment, data are stored in the cloud, and new applications have public application programming interfaces and exchange JSON or XML. It’s not only the hardcore infrastructure applications that are being integrated, but everything down to handheld devices and smartphones.

As mentioned earlier, the best technology is found in the consumer sector—where consumers buy products themselves for their own use based on price and functionality. This is a stark contrast from how buying decisions are made in HIT. However, the situation is not all doom and gloom. The industry is pinning its hopes on physician EMRs to raise the bar for healthcare integration solutions. The gap between people making buying decisions and the ones using them is narrow. For example, physicians are buying these systems for staff use. The initial investments in technology may not be as huge as investments made by large hospitals, but the structure of the market in this area offers much better hope for long-term technological progress.

Health information exchanges (HIEs) are also driving innovation in healthcare. With a push from both payers and major organizations, there is renewed interest in investing in technologies that can handle large-scale integration projects. Large organizations and consortiums are demanding robust healthcare integration engines capable of receiving and transmitting data from multiple entry points across health networks. Rather than spending several years "incentivizing" healthcare systems to change the way they work, organizations are looking for technologies that enable them to simplify integration, normalize the data, and store the data in a centralized portal. As a result, organizations that want to create standardized, interoperable applications can do so effectively.

The emergence of HIEs and increasing popularity of EMRs create enormous opportunities and challenges for the healthcare industry. These new solutions could result in greater efficiency and enhanced patient care. They could also become mired in technical issues, such as exchanging data from disparate sources. To fully embrace innovation, healthcare organizations need to shed their reticence to embrace technology and decentralize purchasing decisions. By critically evaluating their needs and assessing their current technology needs, healthcare organizations can capitalize on recent and future technology innovations.

— Eliot Muir is founder and CEO of iNTERFACEWARE, an HIE solutions provider committed to simplifying healthcare integration.