Interoperability: A Powerful Solution to Staffing Challenges Continues to be Overlooked

In our ever-changing world, clinicians nowadays must find more efficient ways to operate with fewer resources. Increased patient loads, reimbursement changes, rule and regulation adjustments and thin margins, all while being short-staffed can be compared to a smoldering bonfire that reignites every time the wind blows. As if that weren’t enough, post-acute providers will begin to feel even more heat if they don’t embrace interoperability. Our global demographics simply will not be able to sustain old, manual and antiquated processes that, if not addressed, will have extremely harmful consequences to an already overwhelmed healthcare system.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2030  ALL baby boomers will be older than age 65 and for the first time in U.S. history, seniors will outnumber children.  This jarring realization should be a wake-up call for those in the healthcare industry due to the challenges associated with an aging population, such as increased health problems, complications, and comorbidities. 

A logical solution to this complex situation requires a set of policies, procedures, and tools that work to ensure ongoing quality care by providing crucial technology that provides the communication necessary to all providers so that the post-acute care provided is not jeopardized.  

Can your business survive the looming increase in the elderly population in the near future?

The newest healthcare innovations are always thought to be just a hop, skip, and a jump away in a perfect world. They provide a future of continued success in a flourishing healthcare system. However, providers are still not invested in that mindset because they are simply just trying to pay the bills to continue with their day-to-day operations.         

We tend to focus on semantic and advanced interoperability, although critically important, meanwhile, we have 66% of the transactions appearing on a paper fax machine in post-acute provider offices. Somewhere in the middle, something is lacking.

The solution to this problem is right at our fingertips – interoperability. 

Interoperability is the clear choice for post-acute providers 

Post-acute care providers will be better able to meet the needs of an expanding senior population if they adopt interoperability. How do we help them understand and prepare? The financial stimulus will likely not come from the post-acute sector even though the pandemic has shown us that this particular category probably has the greatest need for interoperability. Therefore, we need to provide a strong business rationale for providers to want to convert to a digitally enabled healthcare organization now. 

If I walked into the average provider’s office and said becoming more interoperable addresses all of their business issues and more, their ears would perk up. If they become digitally enabled and embrace electronic data sharing, providers will be able to:

– Do more with less staff because data can now be quickly reviewed and added to the patient record

– Implement patient matching to automate the filing of patient information to their chart

– Have visibility into the data and analytics needed to participate with ACOs, thus providing the opportunity for higher reimbursement

– Eliminate the expense of paper and toner, as well as the time spent performing manual processes when sorting, scanning, attaching, and shredding patient information

– Improve performance ratings for your organization because you are now equipped with the knowledge about a patient upon arrival, rather than documents getting reconciled days after

– Attract talent by using technology that fits today’s generational shift towards a millennial and gen z workforce that isn’t interested in fax, and more importantly, doesn’t even know how to use it 

Connectivity is necessary to achieve interoperability

According to a recent KLAS survey, the success rate of interoperability in acute care and ambulatory settings far exceeds that in post-acute care. But does that mean they are satisfied with doing things the old-fashioned way? Not necessarily. The survey concluded that when approached with the idea of interoperability, they requested help in getting connected.

Many electronic health record (EHR) systems have interoperable data sharing capabilities, yet providers simply don’t realize they are connected and just need to enable electronic communication. It doesn’t help that we use a language of acronyms and technical terms that are foreign to providers. Many EHRs rename the functionality, using terminology specific to their product and unfamiliar to others, creating an obstacle to the universal use of data sharing outside of their specific institution.

We need to use language they understand and meet them at their level. People don’t care how they communicate; they just want to make it happen … losing the cell phone is an example… The vast majority don’t care how it works, what network they’re using, or what wireless protocols are used. They just want to make sure they have the phone and can communicate. 

5 Simple approaches to adding electronic data sharing for a successful tomorrow

We touched on a simple, practical way to share information that can help them remain successful to take care of our ever-increasing aging population. To close this gap in interoperability, here are five simple steps post-acute care providers can take now: 

1. Know what you have: Contact your EHR to understand what electronic communication capabilities are available. More specifically, find out if you have Direct Secure Messaging, an encrypted “email-like” message with attachments.

2. Get a Direct address: You will not be able to receive messages until you have an address. Allow the information to show up in an inbox rather than your fax machine.

3. Learn how to use Direct messaging: Have your EHR account rep point you to a knowledge-based article or video on how to use Direct messaging. Ensure all personnel receive training and understand your goal to transition off of fax over to Direct.

4. Don’t forget to hit publish: Be sure others can find your organization in the National Provider Directory by making sure your Direct address(es) are published. 

5. Alert your community: Call or email the providers you are in contact with the most to notify them that you’d like to transition away from fax to Direct Secure Messaging. Provide your Direct address and see if they know theirs.

Providers need to begin to transition to electronic exchange to help them overcome the challenges of today and the rising senior population of tomorrow. The good news is that they don’t need to take an uncompromising approach. Start with either the largest concentration or highest volume. Fifty percent of a provider’s volume in post-acute may be with organizations that use a specific EHR, or 40% of their referrals may come from a single institution. Transitioning off of fax, over time, will bring tremendous relief to providers right now.