Interoperability: Making the Connection

What goes into making a connection?

Care coordination places an emphasis on making sure providers have the most up-to-date health care records so they can make informed and better decisions as it relates to their patients’ care. In New York State, the entities that reconcile, host, and distribute health records are called regional health information organizations (RHIOs for short). Recently, Foothold Technology helped two clients connect AWARDS to the Bronx RHIO, one of nine regional Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) in New York and one of several connections between similar organizations and AWARDS databases. The process of setting up an interoperability connection isn’t plug-and-play, but as software vendors gain experience with the process, it’s becoming easier to connect.

What goes into making an interoperability connection possible? First of all, HIEs require downstream contributors have verified they have high-quality data in their electronic health records (EHRs) before setting up a live stream. For a provider, the process of engaging with an HIE is an excellent opportunity to re-engage with its EHR implementation to make sure that the provider is using all of the available capabilities. Electronic signatures are extremely important when making interoperability connections, because to exchange patient data with another entity, organizations are required to collect consent forms. From a compliance perspective, both Foothold and our RHIO partners strongly encourage agencies to collect consents electronically and include a consumer’s electronic signature on all forms. This means that agencies must have signature pads or touch screen devices available on location when consumers are signing consent forms.

Agencies who are transmitting medical information must also make sure that they have high-quality data entered into their EHR. This means that diagnoses must have matching ICD codes and that medications have associated RxNorm codes. Having coded data makes it a lot easier for an EHR to insert those records into an HL7 message and for the upstream organization to incorporate that information into a consumer’s record. Agencies that use AWARDS’ IMO functionality and E-prescribing are well prepared to start exchanging this information without taking any additional steps.

Finally, AWARDS reporting capabilities, principally the ReportBuilders and the Interoperability Center, provide users with excellent tools for checking their data quality and verifying the transmission of messages. By allowing our users with direct access to the tools needed to maintain a connection between AWARDS and an HIE or RHIO, agencies can make the most of the implementation work required for interoperability. While it can be resource intensive, all of the work that goes into making a connection is worthwhile for agencies, especially as funding streams change to favor those who can participate in DSRIP projects and care coordination.