Technology in HealthcareThe federal government has been pushing healthcare providers for more than a decade to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) in the belief that this will bring the industry into the digital age and promote information sharing among providers. That, in turn, is expected to improve the quality and affordability of care.

However, not all EHR systems are interoperable, and providers today face the daunting tasks of making their systems and data interoperable, managing the organizational change involved in re-training employees, and satisfying the need for data analytics (which can further improve the quality and affordability of care).

I recently wrote a white paper, "Get Ready; Healthcare Is Speeding into the Digital Age," discussing interoperability, the challenges it presents, and some of the solutions available to providers. This blog covers highlights of the paper.

Interoperability offers a way for providers to safely, securely, and quickly share information, even though the providers may work for different organizations that use different systems. In an interoperable environment, a cardiologist could receive information that had been gathered previously by a patient's general practitioner. This would eliminate redundant collection and entry of data while ensuring that all providers involved in the patient's care had access to pertinent information.

Since 2004, providers have made major gains toward interoperability; nonetheless, the federal government in 2014 created a formal 10-year roadmap toward achieving the ideal interoperable healthcare system, one intended to lead to smarter spending as well as healthier people.

Since the adoption of the 10-year plan, providers have seen an increase in the use of incentives to encourage practitioners to move toward interoperability, but federal incentives can be expected to dry up eventually, leaving the industry to face fees and penalties in their place.

The most familiar federal program is Meaningful Use (MU), which is offered to Medicare and Medicaid providers. Incentive payments available through the MU program are available for a limited time; additionally, the program recently began imposing financial penalties on Medicare and Medicaid providers who have not adopted EHRs. It is unclear how the recent general election will affect the MU program.

States offer incentives as well, but it is not clear how long these will last nor whether the states will eventually begin replacing them with penalties. The most prominent incentive-based model is the State Innovation Model, in which 28 states were participating as of May 2016. While some states are imposing fees as well as penalties, these tend to be highly targeted and do not reach the extent of the federally mandated fees and penalties associated with the MU program.

The MU program requirements that eligible providers are expected to meet are currently deemed to be at Stage 2 of 3. In other words, the requirements are not yet at their strictest. Stage 3 requirements will take effect by 2018. This means that even those Medicare/Medicaid providers who are using EHRs and meeting current requirements will face additional challenges on the road ahead. (The white paper includes a detailed summary of Stage 3 requirements.)

While the challenges that providers face are daunting, they are not impossible. One key to success is working with a technology partner that has extensive experience with interoperability and the technical and regulatory issues it presents.

To request a copy of the white paper, click here.