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Forget meaningful use; for healthcare providers, it's all about interoperability

In recent years, federal mandates have forced healthcare officials to re-evaluate their data sharing strategies and, perhaps more important, how those strategies affect patient care. In this episode of BizApps Today, SearchHealthIT news and features writer Shaun Sutner offers an update on improvements to data sharing. "The whole health IT world has changed," Sutner tells host Joe Hebert.

Officials at the Department of Health of Human Services have moved on from meaningful use -- the government program aimed at helping healthcare providers, hospitals and physicians move from paper to electronic records. Now that most healthcare records are digitized, Sutner says federal IT officials today feel “that the heavy lifting of meaningful use has already been done.”

Today, the goal is interoperability, or sharing data among healthcare providers.

"Right now it can be really difficult taking your [healthcare] information -- it's fragmentary, it's all over the place," Sutner says, referring to the siloed systems in which providers keep health data. Interoperability aims to fix that and enable better access to health information.

Federal officials are now focusing their efforts on how to use digital records to improve patient care, Sutner says. It’s more about using data to help achieve more positive medical outcomes and working on conditions that are chronic and affect large numbers of people -- like Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Sutner says forward-thinking organizations are taking advantage of vendor-neutral archives. With VNAs, images and files from all over the hospital are stored in a central repository, or "one big bucket," to enable easy access to information. VNAs allow clinicians to safely and securely use smartphones and tablets to work on the go.

The use of VNAs, Sutner says, could have positive impact on patient care. First, it should make it easier for patients to access their own data, as laid out in the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability law, or HIPAA. Also, it should "benefit patients with more targeted and faster diagnoses." Further, Sutner expects VNA technology to "lower healthcare prices in the long term or at least achieve a slowing in the rate of healthcare inflation."

How do you feel about data sharing in healthcare? Do you think healthcare providers have been successful in their moves to improve it? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Text by Joe Hebert, associate managing editor for e-publications. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @jhbrt_TT.

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