You Can’t Teach a Legacy EMR New Tricks: Why Healthcare Needs Interoperability Now

By Bill Bunker, Executive Vice President, SCI Solutions

While the adoption of electronic medical records has dramatically increased over the past few years thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s $24 billion in incentives, one key hurdle remains – interoperability. Say a doctor at Hospital A needs to refer a patient to Specialist B – the doctor sends information electronically, right? Wrong, as the majority of EMR vendors do not support interoperability to another vendor, leaving practices to rely on their antiquated fax machine. In fact, a recent New York Times article cites only 14 percent of physicians can exchange patient data with outside hospitals or other providers. So despite all the money poured into improving electronic medical record adoption and technology, why are we behind in our ability to communicate with one another?

Legacy EMRs Leave Small and Mid-Sized Practices Behind

Legacy EMR companies are notorious for their closed ecosystems. These EMRs makes it easy to share patient information from one customer to another. But sharing digital medical records from a customer to a non-customer? Forget about it, unless you can front the enormous setup fees for integration. For larger hospitals and organizations, the cost may be attainable. For small and mid-sized practices, the cost is impossible. By creating closed systems, legacy EMR vendors pressure practices to pay large sums to be on the same solution as their neighbor, which most of the time smaller practices cannot afford. This is more than an inconvenience, as it is preventing physicians from providing proper coordinated care to their patients. Even further, this lack of interoperability may cause practices a reduction in their Medicare reimbursements down the road if they are unable to connect.

EMR-Agnostic Solution Now, Not Later  

“We’ve spent half a million dollars on an electronic health record system about three years ago, and I’m faxing all day long. I can’t send anything electronically over it.”

-Dr. William L. Rich III, a member of a nine-person ophthalmology practice in Northern Virginia and medical director of health policy for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, as told to NY Times Reporter Julie Creswell in recent article

While Meaningful Use standards are pushing for interoperability, the details are complex and part of a longer 10-year roadmap. With a changing insurance reimbursement system and patient need for better care coordination, physicians need interoperability now. For small and mid-sized practices, they cannot afford or wait for legacy EMR vendors to get their technology together. This is why EMR-agnostic care coordination solutions, such as Clarity Health, are crucial in this disjointed healthcare space. Clarity provides a web-based referral management platform that integrates with practice’s existing technology, no matter the vendor. By enabling electronic interoperability from one practice to another, we are bettering care coordination as a whole and allowing practices the freedom to choose the EMR of their preference.

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