3 Ways to Achieve ‘Backward Compatibility’ without Draining Health IT Resources

Healthcare Fax
3 minute read

Backward compatibility—making a new system compatible with an existing operating system—rarely enters C-suite conversations in healthcare, but it should.

That’s because even as healthcare executives expect to make deeper investments in system integration this year, achieving integration becomes faster and far less expensive when leaders explore solutions that help systems talk with each other. This eliminates the pressure on healthcare IT teams that comes with introducing another new system and rolling it out to staff. It also makes the best use of the infrastructure a health system already has, reducing administrative demands for clinicians and staff.

Why Backward Compatibility Is Key

Today, the constant forward movement toward putting new healthcare technologies into play doesn’t take into account an organization’s technical aptitude for integrating these technologies. It also increases the pace of change for healthcare teams—including health IT—at a time when an organization’s workforce is stretched to the brink of burnout.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) recognizes this burden. In a September 2022 report, the ONC stated that voluntary adoption of interoperability standards by certified HIT developers before these regulations take effect “may inadvertently create interoperability challenges where a new version is not fully backwards-compatible.”

So what’s holding health systems back from exploring ways to make legacy systems backward compatible? As the standards for data integration and interoperability keep moving forward, often, some leaders simply don’t know where to start. Others fear the task may be beyond their team’s reach.

Taking the First Steps

Without backward compatibility, achieving true data interoperability—internally and with outside partners—becomes impossible. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three approaches to consider.

  1. Invest in solutions that connect data from disparate systems. The right tools make it easy to communicate across a wide variety of data formats and ensure you get the information you need where you need it most. For example, the latest eFax Corporate® solution is capable of sending documents to multiple destinations in a format that enables clinicians to spend more time with patients and less time deciphering documentation.

    When combining a solution like eFax Corporate with an integration engine, the transmission and management of digital, faxed documents can be automated, transformed, and processed in a variety of ways, further improving interoperability. eFax documents can be:
    • Exchanged via Direct, secure FTP, email, or integrated into EHRs via APIs or HL7
    • Routed to a printer or automatically saved in a user folder as a PDF
    • Converted from a FHIR message to a PDF, (which can be faxed to care settings that don’t support FHIR (SNFs, CAH, FQHC, Home Health, SDoH)
  2. Lean into natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) to demystify unstructured data. Today, leading health providers are exploring tools for transforming unstructured documents like digital scans and faxes into structured, actionable data using NLP and AI. With NLP, for example, a fax solution will be smart enough to not only recognize character strings in the document but also to know what they mean. That’s why they also call it machine learning. Over time, an NLP AI-powered faxing solution will become capable of understanding and analyzing all the ways different systems present the same data, to help improve care.
  3. Consider direct-messaging capabilities that integrate with the EHR. This is quickly becoming the preferred way for primary care physicians to send referrals to specialists. The right solution will encrypt messages and ensure only the intended party has access. Such a tool can boost revenue by supporting faster referrals, and inserting patient information directly into the specialty physician’s EHR. This process enables actionable insights by extracting only the data that the clinician needs to make informed decisions regarding patient care.

Find more tips for achieving backward interoperability in our new whitepaper, “3 Strategies for Breaking Down Healthcare’s Hidden Data Silos,” published in Becker’s Hospital Review.