Telemedicine Not Connecting With EMRs

Posted on June 5, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As smartphones and tablets become a standard part of healthcare as we know it, telemedicine is gaining a new foothold in medicine too.  In some cases, we’re talking off the cuff transactions in which, say, a patient e-mails a photo to a doctor who can then diagnose and prescribe.  But telemedicine is also taking root on an institutional level, with health systems rolling out projects across the country.

The problem is, however, that these telemedicine projects simply don’t integrate with EMRs, according to an article in SearchHealthIT.  The piece’s writer, Don Fluckinger, recently attended American Telemedicine Association’s 2013 Annual International Meeting & Trade Show, where complaints were rife that EMRs and telemedicine don’t interoperate.

I really liked this summary of the situation one executive shared with Fluckinger:

For now, the executive (who asked not to be named) said, telemedicine providers need to keep away from the “blast radius” of EHR vendor conflicts, lest their budgets get consumed by building interfaces to the various non-interoperable EHR systems.

Not only are health systems struggling to integrate telemedicine data with EMRs, telemedicine providers are in a bit of a difficult spot too, Fluckinger notes. As an example, he tells the tale of Seattle-based Carena Inc., a provider of primary care services to patients via phone and video, which provides after-hours support to physicians at Franciscan Health System in Tacoma, Wash.

Carena itself has an EMR which has the ability to share searchable PDF documents for use in patient EMRs, but Franciscan’s seven hospitals are bringing up an Epic implementation which can’t support this trick.  Top execs at Franciscan want to connect Carena’s data to Epic, but that won’t happen right away.  So Franciscan may end up setting up Carena’s after-hours service within Franciscan’s Epic installation to work around the interoperability problem.

This is just one sample of the interoperability obstacles healthcare organizations are encountering when they set out to create a telemedicine service. As telemedicine explodes with the use of portable devices, I can only imagine that this will impose one more pressure on vendors to conquer compatibility problems. (But sadly, I doubt it will force any real changes in the near future.)