Are Healthcare Orgs Dumping Today’s Interoperability Tech?

Posted on December 8, 2016 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.

Recently, I took a survey on interoperability issues sponsored by a health IT organization. And one of their questions seemed so interesting — to me at least — that I thought I’d share it with you.

As part of the survey, the HIT group asked how healthcare organizations planned to split their future investments in interoperability, on a scale ranging from 20% technology/80% services to 100% technology. (In the “services” category, they were looking for investments which would transform core technologies to achieve higher value interoperability goals, such as improved clinical workflow integration or significant practice outcomes.)

As I see it, this was not only a good but a provocative question as well. On the surface, I admit, it sounds like a routine query, which attempts to get a feel for what resources healthcare groups may already have invested in interoperability and how they plan to support those investments. Looked at that way, it was a fairly routine inquiry as such surveys go.

But I believe that there’s another way to look at this question, and I bet the authors did too. To my mind, the question is really evaluating whether respondents think current interoperability technology will ever meet their needs, and how far along they are in making that decision. In other words, answering this question says a lot about the strategy and vision for the future, not just how you plan to keep the infrastructure running.

How does this work? To choose one obvious example, organizations that expect to spend 100% of their future interoperability budget on new technology obviously aren’t fans of the technologies available today. That suggests, to me, that they’ve also lost patience to a greater or lesser degree with other current interoperability approaches like FHIR or the use of HIE technology. They probably doubt their current EHR vendor will ever play ball either.

Meanwhile, organizations that expect to spend 80% of the future interoperability budget on related services may be making the opposite statement. Either they are satisfied that the technology they’ve got is at least performing adequately, can be enhanced to perform adequately or can be repurposed if the right services are put in place. The difference between the two may be as simple as whether they’re in a strong partnership with the right vendor, or a difference in philosophy, but either way this group is hunkered down.

As for those in the middle, who expect to vote 40% to 80% of their budget to new technology, it’s harder to read where they’re headed. But assuming the health IT organization repeats the survey in future years, it will be interesting to how the organizations in the middle progress. My guess is that over the next few years, surveys like these will tell us pretty definitively whether current approaches to interoperability can survive.