Interoperability vs. Coordinated Care

Posted on August 19, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Andy Oram asked me the following question, “Is the exchange of continuity of care documents really interoperability or coordinated care?

As it stands now, it seems like CCDs (continuity of care documents) are going to be the backbone of what healthcare information we exchange. We’ll see if something like Common Well changes this, but for now much of the interoperability of healthcare data is in CCDs (lab and radiology data are separate). The question I think Andy is asking is what can we really accomplish with CCDs?

Transferring a CCD from one doctor to the next is definitely a form of healthcare interoperability. Regardless of the form of the CCD, it would be a huge step in the right direction for all of the healthcare endpoints to by on a system that can share documents. Whether they share CCDs or start sharing other data doesn’t really matter. That will certainly evolve over time. Just having everyone so they can share will be of tremendous value.

It’s kind of like the fax machine or email. Just getting people on the system and able to communicate was the first step. What people actually send through those channels will continue to improve over time. However, until everyone was on email, it had limited value. This is the first key step to interoperable patient records.

The second step is what information is shared. In the forseeable future I don’t seeing us ever reaching a full standard for all healthcare data. Sure, we can do a pretty good job putting together a standard for Lab results, Radiology, RXs, Allergies, Past Medical History, Diagnosis, etc. I’m not sure we’ll ever get a standard for the narrative sections of the chart. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make that information interoperable. We can, are, and will share that data between systems. It just won’t be in real granular way that many would love to see happen.

The idea of coordinated care is a much harder one. I honestly haven’t seen any systems out there that have really nailed what a coordinated care system would look like. I’ve seen very specific coordinated care elements. Maybe if we dug into Kaiser’s system we’d find some coordinated care. However, the goal of most software systems haven’t been to coordinate care and so we don’t see much on the market today that achieves this goal.

The first step in coordinating care is opening the lines of communication between care providers. Technology can really make an impact in this area. Secure text message company like docBeat (which I advise), are making good head way in opening up these lines of communications. It’s amazing the impact that a simple secure text message can have on the care a patient receives. Secure messaging will likely be the basis of all sorts of coordinated care.

The challenge is that secure messaging is just the start of care coordination. Healthcare is so far behind that secure messaging can make a big impact, but I’m certain we can create more sophisticated care coordination systems that will revolutionize healthcare. The biggest thing holding us back is that we’re missing the foundation to build out these more sophisticated models.

Let me use a simple example. My wife has been seeing a specialist recently. She’s got an appointment with her primary care doctor next week. I’ll be interested to see how much information my wife’s primary care doctor has gotten from the specialist. Have they communicated at all? Will my wife’s visit to her primary care doctor be basically my wife informing her primary care doctor about what the specialist found?

I think the answers to these questions are going to be disappointing. What’s even more disappointing is that what I described is incredibly basic care coordination. However, until the basic care coordination starts to happen we’ll never reach a more advanced level of care coordination.

Going back to Andy’s question about CCDs and care coordination. No doubt a CCD from my wife’s specialist to her primary care doctor would meet the basic care coordination I described. Although, does it provide an advanced level of care coordination? It does not. However, it does lay the foundation for advanced care coordination. What if some really powerful workflow was applied to the incoming CCD that made processing incoming CCDs easier for doctors? What if the CCD also was passed to any other doctors that might be seeing that patient based upon the results that were shared in the CCD? You can start to see how the granular data of a CCD can facilitate care coordination.

I feel like we’re on the precipice where everyone knows that we have to start sharing data. CCD is the start of that sharing, but is far from the end of how sophisticated will get at truly coordinated care.