There’s no question that the coronavirus pandemic is putting new tensions on an already overstressed healthcare system. In these unprecedented circumstances Telehealth, pop-up testing clinics and non-traditional healthcare options are relieving some of the pressures, while at the same time illuminating the increased importance of interoperability. However, the coronavirus pandemic is potentially putting the brakes on some measures designed to help build that infrastructure.
Finalized Rules from ONC and CMS
On Monday, March 9, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), finalized rules designed to enforce the patient-directed sharing of personal health data https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/03/09/hhs-finalizes-historic-rules-to-provide-patients-more-control-of-their-health-data.html between providers and payers and patients. It gets behind a technology standard based on open application programming interfaces (APIs) and the HL7’s fast health care interoperability (FHIR) specifications, giving people unprecedented access to their health data, thus empowering them to have more control over their own healthcare and the ability to make better decisions.
However, the rule had already faced opposition from EMR vendors, partly due to security concerns and partly due to unrealistic implementation timelines. And it appears the coronavirus crisis will be another roadblock to adoption, as health care IT officials worry that it will pull focus from responding to the crisis. As hospitals and healthcare providers are overwhelmed in the midst of a global healthcare crisis, federal regulators are considering delaying implementation of the proposed six and nine-month deadlines.
Alternative Healthcare Options Increase the Need for Interoperability
Interoperabilityis the ability of software to communicate in a large network consisting of local healthcare providers so that different systems are able to talk to each other and exchange information in a timely manner. Although these measures were primarily designed to give patients more control over their health records, there’s no question that other use cases related to responding to the pandemic could massively benefit from an upgrade in the interoperability infrastructure.
The current crisis is expanding the scope of point of care. For example, we are increasingly seeing drive-through testing programs at non-traditional locations. And this makes the ability for systems to be able to talk, share and collect data more important than ever. While a data collection and transfer infrastructure that avoids the traditional bugaboos around manual data collection and entry has many benefits, the ad hoc nature of these programs means the organization needs to be agile enough to stand up to this infrastructure quickly. Because fighting COVID-19 is such a time-sensitive situation, interoperability can definitely streamline processes by eliminating redundancies. It can also make healthcare more affordable by reducing inflated costs. When every healthcare provider has access to the same tests it reduces duplication and means fewer patients visits.
Increased Call for Telehealth and Remote Patient Monitoring
While remote patient monitoring (RPM) has long been on the industry radar, the pandemic has put increased focus on this strategy. The current coronavirus situation has stressed providers dealing with an overabundance of sick patients and means they often don’t have the time to gather patient information to have a complete medical record. RPMs make it easier to manage hospital utilization rates and provide safer care for those whose problems may not be acute.
The U.S. Food and Drug Association has recently relaxed regulations https://www.medtechdive.com/news/fda-greenlights-expanded-remote-patient-monitoring-to-keep-patients-out-of/574623/ around the approvals process during the duration of this public health emergency. This will speed time to market for RPM and other devices from new and existing businesses, resulting in a cut back on hospital visits, minimizing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and also decreasing the burden on healthcare providers. Similarly, a consistent open API framework would make it easier for these companies to ensure safe, accurate sharing of remote patient data back to health care professionals via their preferred health records system.