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The global pandemic transformed the healthcare landscape across care settings, pushing providers to adopt digitized, remote care practices that focus on post-acute care (PAC) interoperability. While this accelerated shift to advanced healthcare information technology happened largely due to temporary necessity, there are a few beneficial trends that occurred as a result that I anticipate will be with us long into the future.

What is healthcare interoperability?

Interoperability in healthcare refers to the ability to communicate and exchange medical data across diverse systems and applications. This creates the opportunity for coordinated, holistic care founded on the seamless transfer of information. To accomplish interoperability, health data architectures need to support the access and presentation of a patient’s complete history and treatment records for providers and other stakeholders, including patients themselves. Successful interoperability enables providers to view a longitudinal analysis of a patient’s health while protecting patient privacy and adhering to established standards and policies. HIMSS outlines the standards, governing entities, and policies surrounding interoperability here.

5 COVID-19 healthcare interoperability trends that are here to stay

  1. Encounter notifications
  2. FHIR-based resources access
  3. ePrescribe sophistication and adoption
  4. Workflow maturation
  5. Telehealth encounters & integration

Interoperability in post-acute care

PAC interoperability was ready for a boost – and the pandemic provided just that. Policies introduced to slow the spread also erected new barriers to traditional means of communication in PAC, and interoperability became more of a necessity. According to a study by Porter Research in July 2019, the majority of responding post-acute care providers still use fax and phone calls as their primary means to receive referrals, and 92% said they were unable to automatically populate their electronic health record (EHR) and other IT systems with data and documentation. EHRs are one of the foundational pieces of successful interoperability, and the PAC industry was lagging behind the acute and ambulatory providers, almost all of whom had adopted electronic means of communication.

By integrating advanced technology, PAC providers have set themselves up to continue to deliver the highest level of care and help the healthcare industry as a whole reach new heights with interoperability. Here are the 5 trends that I believe will stick around in a post-pandemic world.

1. Encounter notifications

Patient encounters constitute some of the most meaningful data shared among a patient’s healthcare network, as they help providers see a full picture of what treatment has been delivered and where follow-up visits have occurred. The federal government made it mandatory for health systems to support a workflow that enables notifications of encounters with other providers, drastically improving the capabilities of PAC organizations to assess outcomes and recommend treatment. These notifications help providers:

  • Have a full view of the patient’s care journey
  • Stay aware of any medical emergencies, medication changes, or treatment plan updates
  • Acknowledge events that have occurred outside of their practice

The changes made by national and local networks to accommodate this requirement is an example of interoperability that will continue to help clinicians deliver adequate and effective care.

2. FHIR-based resources access

The Fast Healthcare Information Resources (FHIR) standard establishes how healthcare information can be exchanged electronically and allows for that information to be securely accessible to those who need it. Mandates from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will now open up new layers of discrete interoperability by encouraging expanded access to extra information. This means that patients and providers will be able to more easily and quickly obtain vital health data across devices and platforms.

The new regulations will encourage improved information exchange through certified EHRs, reducing the traditional burden on providers to document, copy, and successfully share records in a timely manner. PAC providers are being given the opportunity to catch up to their counterparts – inspiring a long-term move toward better patient outcomes. The pandemic has proven that modern, web-based interoperability modalities are essential to quickly enable interfaces and provide value to traditionally disconnected providers.

3. ePrescribe sophistication and adoption

The pandemic exacerbated workflows that require document completion by pushing care providers to remote settings and eliminating paper-based workarounds for problems that have long plagued the PAC space. Streamlined administrative processes, such as those provided by Brightree’s ePrescribe solution, accelerate treatment and eliminate time-consuming efforts made between care entities. Patient satisfaction is increased, attrition is reduced, and dynamic, coordinated care is achieved.

4. Workflow maturation

During the pandemic, many PAC providers have realized the benefits of technology that automates and digitizes their daily workflows. This looks like seamless referral management, on-time payments, electronic documentation shared across platforms, and easier communication with patients and other providers. Advancements in this area of clinical interoperability throughout 2020 have laid the foundation for using HIT to inform treatment decisions, engage patients in their care journey, and add critical efficiency to previously cumbersome processes.

5. Telehealth encounters & integration

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a sharp increase in telemedicine necessitated by stay-at-home orders and safety considerations, with remote care rising from 1% of Medicare primary care visits in February of 2020 to roughly 50% by April 2020. Although virtual visits have since declined, I believe that they will remain at a much higher utilization rate than before COVID-19. Virtual visits are convenient for many patients, becoming more and more accessible as technological literacy and access grows among American communities. According to McKinsey, 46% of patients now say they use telehealth for some visits, compared to 11% in 2019. This is no small change, and the efficacy of telehealth thus far has proven its value to patients, payors, and providers.

Benefits of interoperability for healthcare systems

When interoperability is achieved, we see:

  • Greater productivity due to streamlined workflows
  • Improved patient care through successful engagement and communication
  • Better public health data that includes longitudinal records of patient outcomes
  • Fewer errors & reduced costs with automated, electronic systems
  • Safeguarded patient data with universal security standards for EHRs

The enhancements accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to help PAC meet the high demand for better interoperability. As of 2020, 95% of PAC providers indicate they understand how important interoperability is to their referral sources, which is a massive improvement from the 34% reported in 2019. This recognition is very important – 74% of referring providers said they would switch post-acute care partners if they were able to better interoperate with them, highlighting an increasing interest in integrated care.

Now is the time to take advantage of growing opportunities to increase patient engagement, improve outcomes, and build strong relationships with rapidly forming care networks. Brightree offers innovative software solutions for HME and home pharmacy infusion organizations interested in increasing interoperability with advanced, easy-to-use technology. Contact us today for a free demonstration or consultation.

Nick Knowlton is the Vice President of Business Development at Brightree

where he leads the company’s initiatives and strategy for healthcare interoperability and partnerships. Nick is also Chair of the board of directors for CommonWell Health Alliance and has been involved since helping form the Alliance in 2013. He has championed dozens of health information exchange projects across acute, ambulatory and post-acute settings, has helped encourage an industry culture that emphasizes patient-centric interoperability and regularly provides feedback to the relevant federal agencies on policy issues that affect providers and patients across the care continuum.

Nick Knowlton is the Vice President of Business Development at Brightree

Nick Knowlton is the Vice President of Business Development at Brightree

where he leads the company’s initiatives and strategy for healthcare interoperability and partnerships. Nick is also Chair of the board of directors for CommonWell Health Alliance and has been involved since helping form the Alliance in 2013. He has championed dozens of health information exchange projects across acute, ambulatory and post-acute settings, has helped encourage an industry culture that emphasizes patient-centric interoperability and regularly provides feedback to the relevant federal agencies on policy issues that affect providers and patients across the care continuum.