A jumping-off point for reporting on hospital interoperability

Coinciding with its annual meeting, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology issued a data brief on the state of interoperability for hospitals. It’s a great jumping-off point for journalists to ask questions about the ability of critical care providers in their communities to share information about patients.

The good news:

  • 96 percent of U.S. acute care hospitals now have EHRs certified to meaningful use standards.
  • 82 percent of U.S. hospitals have exchanged key types of health information with outpatient providers or hospitals outside their organization.
  • Lab results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries and medication lists were the four types key health information these hospitals exchanged.
  • That’s double the percentage of hospitals that could exchange health data outside their walls in 2008 (41 percent).
  • About half of hospitals (46 percent) have clinical data from outside sources available to make care decisions.

The not so good news:

  • Of those 46 percent of hospitals that have received clinical data from outside sources, one-third (36 percent) said their providers “rarely“ or “never“ use that outside patient heath information to make care decisions.
  • Fewer than one-fifth of those hospitals reported that their providers often use outside patient information when treating patients.

The most common reasons for not using outside patient information in care decisions?

  • The information can’t be viewed in the patient’s electronic medical record (EHR) (53 percent of respondents said this)
  • It’s difficult to integrate information into the EHR (45 percent)
  • Information is not always available (40 percent)
  • Information not presented in a useful format (29 percent)
  • Accuracy of the information is not trusted (11 percent)

Technical issues appear to continue to bedevil hospitals in sharing information and making it actionable for providers.

Meanwhile, patients are growing, well, impatient, with the pace of adoption of interoperability, said National Coordinator on Health IT, Karen DeSalvo. “The people of this country are ready for electronic health information to be available when and where it matters to them,” DeSalvo said at the conference, according to news reports.

Ideas for journalists

The ONC data brief provides a national overview of where hospitals stand. It also offers a list of preliminary questions journalists can ask local hospital officials to find out if they are leaders or laggards. Such as:

  • Can your local hospitals share patient information across systems in the community?
  • What type of information sharing has happened in the past year?
  • How have providers used the information to make care decisions?
  • Can the outside data be viewed in the EHR?
  • Is the information presented in a useful format?
  • Do providers trust the information received?

Patients are demanding greater access and control of their health information. How much of that information is available to their providers can make for a compelling story.

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