Well…we did it again everyone. Congratulations!  We took a perfectly good and innocent word and rendered it completely meaningless. Today’s victim: Interoperability. In fact, this probably happened long before today. You’ve heard it at conferences… while reading whatever digital newsletter you read for industry updates… during a meeting with the fifth (or was that the fifteenth?) vendor to put it on a slide.

The real indicator that it may be overused?… The federal government recently changed the name of the program that incentivized electronic health record technology adoption from Meaningful Use to Promoting Interoperability. I sometimes wonder if regulators are actually in on the joke. It’s almost humorous to call it by this new name when it’s probably the single most influential policy in 20 years to contribute to the lack of actual interoperability.

And yet I digress. This is not a post about the unintended consequences of large-scale regulation. I believe the government does its best to point us in the right direction! We definitely needed the nudge to begin digitizing our industry. And so, after more than a decade of choosing, implementing, ‘optimizing,’ and possibly re-choosing, re-implementing, and re-optimizing an EMR vendor, where are we with our ability to get these critical systems talking to each other?

Our impression has been that most hospitals are not able to get everything they need from their EMR platform. Even health systems that are flagship partners of the large EMR providers – using everything that the EMR offers in return for a discount and some marketing – are not able to use everything effectively. So, there is a broad trend in our industry of ‘appification’… the creation of smart, innovative, nuanced, well-designed solutions that do something specific with a clinical workflow that the EMR vendors simply cannot compete with. With this, all the largest players are bringing their own “app stores” to market, creating an integration point for third parties, along with some fees. In fact, Q-Centrix joined Epic’s app store, known as the App Orchard, in 2018.

As a result of these trends, it’s no longer a question of whether your organization is interoperable or not. Rather, it’s more useful to ask… What’s our strategy? Why do we want to have systems interfacing? Or why do we NEED them to interface?

The answer depends on your unique combination of priorities and needs … Will you A) Standardize your entire system on one EMR platform and purchase all of the associated ‘modules’? And, then implement every single feature the vendor has, from the revenue cycle capability to the infection prevention module? Or, B) Implement various best of breed applications for some of your critical clinical processes (see prevention, infection above) and seek different solutions for the others?

Yet, another approach is a blending of these two concepts: seeking holistic, ‘platform’ solutions and partnerships capable of taking on whole problems or sets of problems. In this case, you’re deploying a best of breed solution for your most critical needs as well as more broadly.

For example, at Q-Centrix, we saw clinical data registry management as an area where a more comprehensive approach could solve interface challenges. Through a Universal Registry Solution, we manage the entire registry-encounter lifecycle – from data capture to submission. Furthermore, we bring hospitals’ data into our technology platform and leverage the aforementioned third-party integration, freeing our partners’ IT teams from having to bridge so many system gaps. The result is improved efficiency, money saved, and delivery of the data needed to improve clinical processes.

So, as we say goodbye to 2018, should we be singing: “May interoperability be forgot, and never brought to mind.” Perhaps not quite. More practically, you can leave behind the traditional notion of interoperability as a one-and-done deal and instead acknowledge that it’s an ongoing effort. Then, resolve to talk with your team and vendors about where seamless data exchange and use is most critical among your processes and what degree of standardization across them is necessary to achieve your goals.