Health IT Standards Checkup: Interoperable Health Care System Progress Report

In this day and age of electronic interfaces, social media, and patients checking their own health records via mobile device, the ways in which Health Information Technology (Health IT) conducts its business are changing. Yet that does not mean that standards go out the window; to the contrary, during times of change standards become that much more important.

A major effort currently underway is to ensure that all health care systems are interoperable. This can take many forms, according to Healthcare Information and Management Systems, from providing necessary data bridges between the internal areas of, say, a hospital – such as the laboratory, pharmacy, and patient care documentation system so that they are all able to communicate quickly and effectively. It also means hospitals can communicate with clinics, physicians can communicate between their offices and local hospital, and patient records can be easily retrieved.

But this is not as simple as making sure that platforms used by different physicians or health care providers are able to communicate. Patients now use mobile phones and tablets to keep track of health records and make appointments, in addition to home computers. An interoperable health care system must therefore provide protection as well as information. Standards are being implemented to ensure safety of patient information, but are not complete.

There are other attempts to ensure fast, easy, intelligible communication between different systems. RxNORM, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, is an initiative that provides “normalized names for clinical drugs and links its names to many of the drug vocabularies commonly used in pharmacy management and drug interaction software.” The end goal is to reduce the amount of time it takes to decipher messages between different systems not built on the same vocabularies.

Another effort is SNOMED, which according to the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation, provides cross-platform terminologies with standardized definitions, making the entering of patient data into the electronic health record (EHR) more easily understood across systems. Since the EHR is such a fundamental part of today’s health IT, ensuring its usability across databases and countries is paramount.

Other attempts to make aspects of the Health IT sector electronic are currently being rolled out, such as the Electronic Submission of Medical Documentation system. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this is an effort to institutionalize digital signatures (esMD) when contractors who overlook Medicare-using providers request information. This rollout will eventually result in providers’ ability to submit documentation electronically instead of in the only two forms currently available: print or fax. This is yet another example of how standards are changing to meet the current demand the health care systems be up-to-date, interoperable, flexible and accurate.

The adjustment of Health IT to an electronic world is progressing smoothly, but standards are more necessary than ever to ensure that patient, provider and overall system are all protected in the new electronic age.

Sources: What is Interoperability?. RxNorm, About SNOMED CT, Electronic Submission of Medical Documentation (ESMD)

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