Providers may have collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) extended the deadline for complying with new interoperability regulations. However, relaxing enforcement does not lessen the urgency around ensuring the secure exchange of and access to patient information.
In the field of oncology, interoperability is especially critical as access to comprehensive data not only impacts direct patient care, but also the clinical research that leads to life-saving treatment breakthroughs. Without the ability to share patient information across different channels, little progress can be made in our approach to cancer.
In early March, HHS released two wide-ranging Final Rules around interoperability – one each from The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). These rules direct implementation of interoperability provisions spelled out in the 21st Century Cares Act to promote data exchange between providers and ensure patients can access their medical and claims information through application programming interfaces (APIs).
In April, the decision was made to extend compliance deadlines and relax enforcement for six months. As a result, providers have until November to comply with the ONC’s interoperability and information blocking rule, and implementation of CMS’s provisions for sharing admission, discharge and transfer notifications by Medicare providers goes into effect in spring 2021.
Even with the delay, the pressure on healthcare organizations across the board to step up their interoperability game remains intense. And for good reason: Having secure access to comprehensive patient information whenever and wherever it is needed is foundational to advancing the industry’s performance goals related to everything from quality of care and clinician workflow to population health strategies and scientific advances.
When it comes to interoperability, the seemingly insurmountable challenge for many small, independent oncology practices is the significant resource commitment required to update technology, build interfaces and ensure security. Even developing policies and procedures to guide data sharing and use can consume resources many small practices simply cannot spare.
This is where the right partner can make a huge difference. At American Oncology Network (AON), we have our own integration team to take the burden off our practices’ internal resources. Our team is able to install/upgrade and create the necessary interfaces quickly to ensure the secure flow of data between practices, hospitals, labs, pharmacies and other organizations within our network and each practice’s region—all guided by prevailing best practices to ensure optimal outcomes.
Our streamlined, scalable resources help advance interoperability and put critical patient data at clinicians’ fingertips, helping to drive improvements in patient care and clinician workflows. It also gives our practices a significant competitive edge in the market.
More comprehensive patient data naturally informs better diagnostic and treatment decisions. It allows clinicians to closely monitor the effectiveness of drug therapies and allows for a more tailored approach to care, which can lead to better outcomes. On the research side, the ability to securely share deidentified patient data with AON’s research partners supports advances in cancer drugs and other therapies.
Interoperability also helps improve the way we practice medicine by streamlining workflows. The ability to access comprehensive and current patient information in one place, including histories, lab results and demographics, saves a tremendous amount of time that can instead be spent on actual patient care.
Interoperability will undoubtedly remain an industry priority for the foreseeable future. While forward progress has been made, we have a long way to go before achieving full, meaningful interoperability. The guidance provided by ONC and CMS helps, as does seeing the benefits of broader data sharing firsthand.
We are currently dealing with an unprecedented explosion in the volume of data, and we are seeing a monthly increase in research, outcomes information, lab tests and drug development. The ability of healthcare organizations to analyze this data on the fly will soon become critical.
The rapid advancement of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning will soon translate into even diagnostic support tools for physicians, adding further urgency to finding ways to deliver health information in an easily digestible manner. Meaningful aggregation of data is an absolute necessity, but it cannot happen without strong interoperability and collaboration between systems, healthcare organizations and government.
Overcoming cost and resource barriers by partnering with a network like AON can help independent oncology practices realize those benefits faster—and more economically—than they can on their own. The key is experienced implementation teams, economies of scale and a commitment to ensuring clinicians can focus on the patient, not the technology.