Interoperability and Electronic Health Records

In the modern healthcare system, electronic health records (EHRs) are becoming as much a part of the treatment landscape as stethoscopes and x-rays.

EHRs give healthcare providers the ability to share information when they are part of an interoperable network. In other words, EHRs require a continuous, harmonious way to transfer data and information. Having a seamless system allows the delivery of more efficient healthcare by giving providers the information they need, when they need it and in a format they can use.

Interoperable EHR products are measured by four factors:

Enabling the interoperability of EHRs has become so important for the future of medicine that the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT, the federal agency in charge of coordinating implementation of health information technology, has developed a framework designed to enable systems to communicate more effectively.

EHRs, however, contain vast amounts of data that can be difficult to sift through or maintain. It can be equally difficult to determine who may find the data valuable. Standard EHRs contain information that is of value to researchers, safety advocates and medical staff, from doctors referring patients for other services to office staff getting pre-authorization for medical devices.

So while EHRs are a fantastic source of patient information, capturing relevant data that improves quality of care can be somewhat cumbersome without an effective interoperability system in place. To meet that need, the ONC has devised the framework to cultivate what is referred to as the “Structured Data Capture” initiative.

How Does It Work?

In an effort to keep EHRs from overwhelming providers with information, templates containing structured data, also known as Common Data Elements (CDEs), are used to access specific data sets and fill in missing information, said Dr. Doug Fridsma, writing for the government’s Health IT website.

Once a provider selects the proper template, it can automatically populate with the correct CDEs using data obtained from EHRs. That information is then stored, and completed templates become available to organizations, doctors and researchers who can use it.

Working with the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Library of Medicine, the ONC is trying to figure out how different agencies can oversee CDEs. In any case, the use of Structured Data Capture in EHRs looks like the future for using the data within them to improve health services and research activities.

If successful, the structured data capture project will define what a data element is, standardize ways to collect and place them into templates, and regulate ways to access, display and store the data. All of this could reduce duplicate data entry and ensure that the information collected is useful and comparable across various groups, be it doctors, researchers, health informaticists, public health agencies or the patients themselves.

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