LigoLab Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer.
Living through the Coronavirus pandemic was a harrowing experience for all of us. So much about the infectious disease was unknown when it was first detected.
Almost immediately, public health measures were implemented to protect our population from harm. We were all encouraged to social distance, wear a mask and get tested. Suddenly, many of us were working remotely from home or going to school online. We all changed our behaviors overnight.
Covid-19 also presented a massive challenge for those of us in healthcare. Overwhelmed hospitals and a lack of available beds for patients. A shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Long lines to get tested at drive-up testing locations.
However, I still marvel at how fast diagnostic labs changed workflows to build testing capacity and to keep patients and personnel safe. It should be noted that the healthcare transformation that resulted thanks to Covid-19 wasn’t an outlier. Rapid change is quite common in an industry where internal and external pressures often expedite the development of new technologies to solve problems and deliver better patient outcomes.
Defining Data Exchange
For those who need to become more familiar, data exchange in healthcare is defined as the electronic sharing of patient information between disparate organizations like hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and laboratories. As one might imagine, the more efficient the data exchange systems used between these entities, the better it is for the patient’s well-being.
Electronic health records (EHR) are widely used in hospitals, clinics and pharmacies to record details like a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, test results and any other relevant information.
Clinical laboratories and pathology practices employ laboratory information systems (LIS) for data management, sample tracking, customer service, quality control, instrument integration, compliance and result reporting. Some of the more modern LISs even support inventory management and have laboratory billing functionalities.
For the most efficient patient data management and to advance in areas like precision medicine and personalized care, the seamless integration of these two types of software systems is critical. Once this convergence of health informatics is achieved, the fast and accurate exchange of patient data and improved care outcomes is possible.
The Difficulties With Data Exchange
It might seem like a simple thing, but the seamless exchange of patient information between a hospital and a laboratory cannot be taken for granted. That’s because EHR and LIS are in most cases developed by different software vendors and often use different data formats and coding standards. This lack of a commonality across all entities creates complexity, errors and frustration.
Addressing and overcoming a challenge like this doesn’t compare to the Coronavirus pandemic, but there are some similarities. First off, seamless data exchange only became a reality recently thanks to the early adoption of newly available technology. Secondly, the pressure throughout the industry to increase efficiency to match growing caseloads has also contributed, causing a change in behavior out of necessity.
Going further, the convergence of healthcare informatics requires extensive planning, coordination, testing and validation between healthcare providers and healthcare vendors. It’s not like flipping a switch, but as you’ll soon see, the benefits of investing in integration far outweigh the challenges.
The Promise Of Convergence
In healthcare, efficiency means everything. Be it a hospital or a laboratory, there’s constant pressure to serve the patient better while also dealing with real issues like rising operating costs, declining reimbursements for their services and a shortage of skilled workers.
By effectively converging healthcare informatics between EHR and LIS, providers can achieve a new level of productivity and other advantages to help offset these pressures and deliver on their promise of enhanced patient care.
Consider the following:
Real-Time Sharing: In healthcare, the faster a result is delivered from the lab to the physician, the better it is for the patient. Real-time data sharing between the EHR and LIS allows for quicker diagnoses.
Streamlined Workflows And Enhanced Accuracy: Mistakes while manually entering patient data into a system can have serious consequences. Thankfully, the digital interplay between the EHR and LIS greatly reduces the chance of human clerical error because the data transfer is both digital and automatic.
Complete Patient Profiles: Up until the recent past, lab results were more often than not isolated from other patient info. Now, thanks to EHR-LIS integration, providers can access an all-encompassing view of a patient’s health record.
Patient Engagement: Today’s consumers want to play an active role in their healthcare. Integrated systems that come with patient portals enable direct access to ALL of their medical records, including laboratory test results.
Collaboration Of Care: EHR-LIS convergence leads to better communication and the opportunity for collaboration among healthcare teams. All stakeholders have access to the same up-to-date and comprehensive patient data.
Cost Efficiency: No EHR-LIS integration opens the door to duplicate tests and unnecessary procedures due to inaccessible data. When integrated, providers on both sides of the integration can view previous test results and medical histories, leading to more cost-effective care.
Data Insights: The combining of clinical data from an EHR with the detailed lab results provided by a lab information system represents a real opportunity for medical researchers. They can analyze the data and look for patterns that could ultimately result in medical breakthroughs.
Make Integration More Widespread
Leaders can make this integration more widespread first by clearly communicating with all stakeholders (hospital and laboratory providers, health system administrators, IT staff) the benefits that result from EHR-LIS integrations.
Secondly, leaders can do their part to ensure widespread interoperability between providers by supporting open data formats like Health Level Seven (HL7) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) and by making sure the organization stays compliant with the regulatory requirements for healthcare information systems.
I believe that universal adoption is within reach and that we’ll get there collectively by sharing success stories among providers. This industry is both challenging and ultra-competitive, so when healthcare decision-makers see a peer moving forward with technology, they are likely to follow suit.
Seamless data exchange is here to stay, and with time, it will be widely adopted. The convergence of data between EHR and LIS streamlines what has traditionally been a complex problem in healthcare and cuts out errors and delays that could potentially harm. It ensures that patient data is accurately and immediately shared between the systems, and it empowers well-informed medical professionals to deliver optimal care.
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