We will never reach health equity across our diverse patient populations if we don’t create solutions that are equitable to all of healthcare. Perfecting the practice of person-centered care to drive health equity means extending that same hospitality to those in healthcare as much as those receiving healthcare– equitable technology solutions are person-centered.
It’s unreasonable to expect providers to apply focus to an eight-syllable word (interoperability) that is still not widely understood and expect them to execute on it. Yet, doing less with more seems to be the way every provider is expected to operate. Dealing with regulatory pressures, changes in reimbursement models, leading through pandemic challenges while increasing patient loads all amidst a growing staffing shortage, it can all feel like the house is on fire.
How many times have we all had to complete the exact same forms over and over and OVER between providers/practices? How many times has there been some variation of data we’ve provided? How many times has there been some variation of the questions we’ve been asked? On average, how many times do providers complete a clinical encounter and entirely tolerate the history mystery for the patient? Would having the data lead to better clinical decision support? Would having that visibility slightly change a care journey, or would it entirely alter a patient’s course of care? Yet, providers are still struggling to gain access to pertinent medical history on the right patient, in the right place, at the right time. Further still, loads of independent practitioners are having to step back from integrated networks due to their inability to comply, or failure to satisfy the burden of submission of content to identified external data entities as a condition of participation.
We must think differently about how to create solutions for providers that are balanced, reasonable, and person-centered to the clinical tasks/experiences at hand. While it may be easy to manage, easy to deploy, and check all the compliance boxes on the technology side, if the “solution” for the clinical end-users is a nightmare to use, we will continue with disparate systems and communication will continue to be fragmented, making the outcome of health equity difficult to attain.
Interoperability is not just about software. It is also about making information meaningfully accessible to those who need it, when they need it, and doing so within existing protocols whenever and wherever possible, minimizing technology replication, and maximizing the technology they already own. Meaningful interoperability allows both the consumer/patient and the clinical teams using that information to find what they need, when they need , and where they need it.
If our information sharing systems are limited to expensive software solutions or services that are not easily customizable for different types of practices, we are still not solving for the root of the problem. Rural clinics and hospitals, , nonprofits with limited budgets, or organizations without access to a large IT staff will be left behind, meaning that interoperability is still out of reach.
Do More to Do More
Additionally, creating a meaningful exchange of information doesn’t get us any closer to our goals unless we consider how it is being used. Not just by systems, but by real people on the frontline of healthcare, looking after patients day in and day out.
Bureaucratic tasks, playing hunter/gatherer with information and manually charting, duplicative paperwork, etc. is as ridiculous as it sounds. Instead of creating more for them to do via a different digital medium, we’d go a long way in honoring the heroes in healthcare by giving them back their time to spend with patients the way they truly want to. These burdens can be streamlined (and in many cases eliminated) by getting technology to do more so those in healthcare can do more of what they love.
Too often, the focus becomes on the technology itself. The focus should always be on the people that technology serves.
Technology designed to help share healthcare information has to relieve the burden on the provider, not add to their workload, causing further burnout. For example––emergency medics on an ambulance arrive on scene with little to no information about the patients they are treating, many times in life-threatening scenarios. Equitable interoperability for the medics is when the program they use every day equips them with better clinical decision support, and seamlessly enables the medics to reach out to the national frameworks and provide instant feedback on the same screen. Medics can then chart the treatment en route to the hospital, so a trauma surgeon receives all of that information before the patient hits the door. These are the types of tools that can improve healthcare outcomes without requiring additional effort on behalf of the users, whether that be financial burdens on the health system or the time of individual practitioners themselves.
Looking Forward––Success Includes All Stakeholders
The people should always be our center. At the center of every push for interoperability, the center of every solution we propose, let the stakeholders challenge our assumptions, validate the “we believe” statements that shape our designs. The effects will ripple to every tier of the healthcare world. From saving time on paperwork, to saving the mental health of our healthcare workers, to saving the lives of the patients they serve, which could very well be you or me…everybody wins.