Connecting the Dots of Health Data Interoperability

Health IT, Interoperability
4 minute read

Being able to access patient information at the point of care is essential to delivering accurate diagnoses and timely treatments. When making care decisions,  relevant and up-to-date data within providers’ workflow can facilitate collaboration and enhance communication across the continuum of care to drive better health outcomes.

Yet making data easily accessible between different systems is an ongoing challenge, particularly for healthcare’s “digital have-nots” that weren’t eligible for electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use incentives. These organizations—like post-acute care facilities, skilled nursing, home health, substance use disorder clinics, and assisted living facilities—often deal with missing, incorrect, or improperly inputted data that can impede access to care.

These providers need practical solutions to streamline electronic information exchange. The right solutions can level the playing field between digital haves and have-nots, enabling providers to seamlessly share information and make informed care decisions.

The Digital Healthcare Divide

Critical care decisions depend on smooth electronic information exchange because missing data or gaps in a patient’s health history can have devastating consequences. While many hospitals have EHRs that can share structured data within their networks, many of the post-acute care settings in underserved markets where they may refer patients to can’t exchange this advanced data—often because they can’t afford to implement an EHR with upfront costs and monthly subscriptions, and their margins are so thin they can’t opt for the RCM model to pay a percentage of their revenue for an EHR.

Bridging this digital divide is crucial when managing patient referrals between facilities. In fact, 99% of hospitals surveyed said they’re more likely to send referrals to post-acute care providers that can accept electronic orders.  

But even when post-acute facilities have a way to process these referrals, the data they receive isn’t always perfect. For instance, 76% of skilled nursing facilities say the data they receive is incomplete or unusable. More than half of them don’t even receive referral information until after the patient is in their care. These data-exchange breakdowns can seriously disrupt the continuity of care, putting patients at risk.

Overcoming Interoperability Hurdles

If a sophisticated EHR is out of reach, “digital have-nots” can instead leverage existing technologies to streamline information exchange and transform unstructured data without excessive costs or administrative burdens.

For example, organizations that can’t afford to implement an EHR can still share important information with complex systems through a simple, secure, cloud-based digital fax platform. Shifting from paper-based fax to a digital cloud fax solution can help centralize patient intake and referrals by compiling scanned documents into one dashboard.

More technologically advanced solutions can combine digital cloud fax with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities like natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) to transform faxes, handwritten notes, and other unstructured data into structured, shareable information. By using intelligent data extraction, these tools automatically pull information from unstructured documents and can then route the information directly to the receiving end, such as an EHR or prior authorization workflow reducing data entry. What makes this intelligence more reliable is the ability to have a source document and identify confidence levels for each of the data fields extracted. 

Considering that seven in 10 hospitals still rely on paper faxing to transfer patient records, the combination of digital fax with AI can bridge healthcare’s digital divide by ensuring access to critical information regardless of its format. This can level the playing field to streamline data transfer to all different types of care settings with different levels of technology including those that treat our most vulnerable patients, enabling more collaborative care and, ultimately, better health outcomes.

It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, finding the right solution depends on a careful assessment of an organization’s data sharing needs.

For guidance on selecting the right data exchange solution, including a checklist for picking the perfect platform, download our latest whitepaper.