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Lack of IT Innovation in Healthcare, Is It Truly a Roadblock?

Interoperability & EHR

“We don’t need no regulation. We don’t need no thought control.”

Ala Pink Floyd. Innovator’s dilemma or innovator’s healthcare IT hype?

Which is more relentless? The pace of IT innovation in Healthcare or the calls for ever more innovation – especially now that healthcare is the “high growth” sector? For example, USA Today recently published Commentary: Health Care’s Innovator’s Dilemma in its Tech section online where the author cites huge costs and waste in the US healthcare system and calls for more innovation, more innovators, and, especially, more disruptive bottom-up, no-holds-barred innovation. The author anchors his title and call on Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s 1997 classic The Innovator’s Dilemma while he states, “The healthcare system has been falling short in solving everyday workflow problems for some time now, and yet it’s still not innovating to fix that problem.” 

Is that really the solution? I’d argue that innovations already exist today to make huge reductions in the cost of healthcare and improve efficiency, without waiting for yet more innovation and investing yet billions more to get results. Innovative solutions and technologies are staring right at us, and the new Harvard Business School Healthcare Initiative agrees with me.

The Health Acceleration Challenge sponsored by Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School has been created to identify and promote demonstrated health care innovations that are ready to scale. “We’re looking for proven ideas that have the potential to do great things for the U.S. health care delivery system,” Dr. Barbara McNeil, professor at Harvard Medical School says. “It is widely known that healthcare innovations are much slower to disseminate than comparable solutions in other industries. We want to help speed up the process.”

My Nomination #1: Mandate access to EHR systems’ data. Let a proven 10-year old innovation scale.

We don’t need innovations in technology to gain access to an EHR systems’ data or to utilize the data that they house. We can either mandate EHR data access or simply not license EHR systems that do not offer free and easy access to their data. Freeing data access enables a long, long list of ways to make hospital processes more efficient and healthcare less costly, exactly what the HiTech Act hoped would be the result of its program.

I don’t disagree that the behemoth EHR systems that dominate the market today, for the most part, are built on legacy technology or that these legacy systems make accessing the data harder and not inherently interoperable. But middleware, like what PilotFish and other vendors provide, solves the problem of making the data usable by other systems. And the technology to do this has existed for over 10 years!

Middleware solutions (interface engines) offer the flexibility of being able to get to the data no matter how the EHR system provides access as long as they indeed do. Middleware transforms the data to what the receiving systems require and then transports it again to a format supported by the receiving system. Middleware like ours works, is efficient and allows the advantage of reuse which hard-coded interfaces don’t facilitate.

Let the savings flow. By freeing data access we open up a world of opportunities.

First, we reduce the need for duplicate tests as hospitals and practices will now be able to share data. Test data can follow a patient receiving services anywhere. We also eliminate re-keying terabytes of patient data, resulting in reduced errors, reduced entry costs, and significant time savings. Those improvements alone are worth having the courage to step up to open EHR data access.

Ahead, the exponential growth in healthcare data from ever more disparate sources and systems will absolutely demand open access for improved care and greater efficiency.

Too bad we missed the deadline for the Health Acceleration Challenge this time around. But we will be very interested in seeing which of the 478 innovators that applied do win. The Challenge invites you to “help select the finalists by viewing and commenting on the applications here. In fact, sharing insightful comments on other people’s ideas could earn you free tickets to our invite-only conference even if you are not a “Challenge applicant.” Take a look.

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Monika Vainius

Written by: Monika Vainius

Executive Vice President of Applied PilotFish Healthcare Integration. Monika has extensive experience with systems interoperability. She combines this experience with her professional passion for healthcare and healthcare technology to comment on current healthcare and IT news. Website

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