Nationwide Healthcare Interoperability Isn’t Happening

Posted on August 8, 2018 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.

I’ve got interoperability on the mind today. I think it’s probably because of all the tweets that are coming out on the #InteropForum hashtag from the ONC Interoperability Forum in DC. I would have liked to attend, but I’m grateful that so many people are sharing what’s happening. That said, I must admit that I’m tired of a lot of the tweets that aren’t grounded in reality and that call for things that are never going to happen or tweets that propose goals that aren’t meaningful (yes, I had to use that word).

The first reality that’s become clear to me is that nationwide interoperability of healthcare data isn’t going to happen.

It’s just not going to happen and in most cases it shouldn’t happen when you consider the costs and benefits. Sure, we are all traveling a lot more, but there are 45 or so states in the US where no healthcare organization has need for my health information. If they do, then there are ways they can get it, but they are rare. Even if I have a crazy medical incident in an unusual state, those care providers know how to take care of me even without all my health records. Doctors are always treating patients with limited information. If I’m a chronic patient where certain information would be important for me if I’m treated out of state by a doctor that doesn’t know me, there are hundreds of options for me to carry that information on my phone.

My point here is that there aren’t any massive economic incentives for there to nationwide sharing of health data. Don’t be confused though. I’m not saying that sharing health data is not beneficial. What I’m saying is that we don’t need to build a national framework of health data sharing. When people suggest we should make that a reality, they’re essentially dooming interoperability. Talk about biting off more than you can chew. It’s become quite clear to me that Nationwide Interoperability of health data isn’t going to happen.

I love this excerpt from Brian Mack’s blog post on the Great Lakes Health Connect (an HIE) blog:

The Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) released by the Office of the National Coordinator last January, was (it was thought) intended to bring clarity and define a path forward for national interoperability, but has instead just added more uncertainty and the promise of additional layers of bureaucracy.

Discussions around national healthcare interoperability just bring more uncertainty and more layers of bureaucracy. It’s a failed approach.

With that said, it’s also very clear that smaller scale interoperability is not only possible but a valuable thing for most in healthcare. This was highlighted by interoperability expert, Greg Meyer, when he tweeted:

It’s really great that Greg is trying to figure out how we can generalize these point to point interoperability solutions. That’s a smart approach. However, buried in this tweet in a way that most will miss is the fact that there are a lot of unique scenarios and solutions where healthcare interoperability has been successful. Healthcare interoperability is possible and many organizations are doing it. Just not on a national scale.

To continue Greg’s analogy, we need more of these interoperability “snowflakes” and we need those creating the snowflakes to share their successes. A blizzard of snowflakes is a powerful thing even though the individual snowflakes are small. As it stands today, a national approach to interoperability is more like spending millions and billions of dollars on a snow making machine and then never turning it on. I’d rather have a million snowflakes than a billion dollar machine that doesn’t produce any snow. </ end snowflake analogy>

Another example of healthcare interoperability in action was shared at the Healthcare IT Expo this year. Don Lee offered a great summary of UPMC’s success with interoperability and the parts of interoperability they have solved. There’s always still more work to do, but if every hospital was able to accomplish what UPMC has accomplished in regards to healthcare interoperability, then we could have a very different discussion around healthcare data sharing.

The only solution I see to healthcare interoperability is for healthcare organizations to make it a priority. As I said back in 2013, Interoperability Needs Action, Not Talk. The more small interoperability connections we make, the more we’ll understand our data, how to connect, and build relationships between organizations. All of that will be key to even starting to thinking about nationwide healthcare interoperability. Until then, let’s table the nationwide healthcare interoperability discussions.