Interoperability Strategies to Scale Digital Health Technology

By Joshua Douglas, Chief Technology Officer at Bridge Connector; a HIMSS Interoperability Showcase Collaborator

The lack of interoperability is often discussed as a challenge for provider and payer organizations, but the challenge for digital health market suppliers bringing new innovations to market can loom just as large.

With teams of engineers dedicated to building innovative products to solve the hardest challenges in healthcare, a scalable interoperability strategy ensures that the innovations brought to market will be easier to incorporate into the increasingly complex ecosystem of healthcare applications and products.

We've identified three key barriers for these innovative digital health market suppliers and three ways interoperability gets these organizations ahead of the curve.

Digital Health Barriers to Interoperability

1. Integration with EHRs

Digital health market suppliers often use technology to collect patient data, but without integrating into the systems that their customers use daily, that data remains siloed within the technology used to collect the information. In order to make data collected by technology actionable—or capable of informing patient care decisions—data needs to move from the system that collects the data to whatever data management system the customer considers their single source of truth, such as their EHR or customer relationship management system.

Without the ability to integrate a new system into existing workflows, often all providers see is another system to log in to and keep track of when these market suppliers present them with new solutions. Why is this such a big issue? It's proven that healthcare organizations are unlikely to buy technology that will increase manual data entry, as physicians already have numerous points of data entry to deal with.

In fact, research shows that 44% of physicians report burnout—59% of which identify bureaucratic tasks as the greatest factor. As physician burnout already affects the healthcare community at large, another piece of technology or software that adds to their administrative workload significantly reduces the appeal of the technology.

Now, we get to the bottom line: Innovation in the healthcare technology marketplace is booming, providing unprecedented opportunities to improve patient care. However, no matter how amazing the technology is, healthcare organizations simply don't think adding another disparate system into the mix at their organization is worth the benefit that the technology provides.

2. Need for In-House Expertise

Digital health market suppliers usually have incredible developers and engineers to turn their visions into reality. However, integration resources are usually specialized and expensive and can be hard to find. Even with the best teams, integrations are a traditionally complex process, and every customer wants something a little different. This heavily increases the workload for the engineering team and increases the risk of something going wrong.

Yet, some digital health market suppliers still expend significant effort engineering integrations themselves. As you might imagine, starting from ground-zero requires a level of time and effort that often isn’t available to these market suppliers in-house, making for a less efficient, resource-consuming integration process.

The real kicker here? More time on integration development and maintenance means less time to develop the actual products, solutions, and/or services these technology companies are trying to sell. Digital health market suppliers are more or less having to become integration companies in order to scale. Ultimately, a lack of expertise when developing an integration delays the journey to interoperability.

3. Cost Control

Some digital health market suppliers choose to buy instead of build. While this option solves the problem of expertise, it introduces a whole new challenge of cost control.

Custom integrations are complex by nature, which means that the price point of traditional integration models are accessible to only the largest healthcare organizations and tech market suppliers. Excluding outliers with significant venture capital, digital health market suppliers simply do not have the resources necessary to conduct an enterprise-grade integration project.

The good news? As healthcare technology develops, integration models are developing along with it. There are now more options than ever before for companies of all ages and sizes to utilize an integration partner in order to scale.

Digital Health Interoperability Opportunities

Digital health market suppliers may be challenged by barriers to interoperability, but improved solutions and models have made interoperability more attainable, empowering market suppliers to tackle these barriers head-on. Thinking of rising to the occasion? Here are three opportunities digital health companies can realize by leveraging connected patient data.

1. Increased Tech Adoption and “Stickiness”

While siloed patient data can be a deal breaker, integrated patient data can be a deal maker for digital health market suppliers. By offering a product that improves patient care and doesn't increase administrative time and efforts, tech market suppliers increase product value within target markets, making the product easy to buy and difficult to let go.

A lack of interoperability challenges the healthcare industry at large, creating significant opportunity for digital health market suppliers to add value to the patient experience while offering convenience to the provider. Market suppliers can maximize these opportunities by offering integrated technology that does not require additional administrative time.

Not only is a scalable interoperability solution a competitive advantage, it’s also a great customer retention tool for digital health companies because it creates conveniences that users become accustomed to. Imagine, for instance, buying a piece of technology that makes you better at your job, but doesn’t make your life any more difficult. For instance, Smart Health Station network, Higi, changed its approach to integrations to give providers consistent visibility into their patients’ statuses between check-ups without adding any extra work into the day.

Now, consider what it would feel like to lose that technology, losing these insights that you've become accustomed to. Painful. Once a product becomes embedded in a workflow, the product becomes much stickier, keeping customer retention rates high.

2. Data-Driven Patient Care

Interoperability empowers customers of digital health market suppliers to collect and aggregate patient data, opening the door for enhanced data insights that inform better-coordinated care and product development.

In a true win-win fashion, patient data trends give providers and payers visibility into the end-user, the patient, allowing them to continue to deliver a better patient experience. When it comes to patient care, getting the right data, to the right people, at the right time, can improve the care experience for all stakeholders.

Integrated digital health technology also makes time for more accurate diagnostics, which, at the end of the day, also improves patient care. What better way to serve your customers than to give them the information they need to do their jobs more effectively?

Furthermore, integrated digital health solutions help customers pace with interoperability legislation mandates, helping providers avoid financial consequences in the long run.

3. Better Patient Outcomes

At the end of the day, digital health technology operates in the realm of healthcare, which means that the end consumer is the patient. Goals for scaling healthcare technology should work in tandem with goals to improve the patient experience and patient outcomes. Interoperable digital health technologies do just that.

How? Interoperability eliminates dual, manual data entry, giving physicians time to offer undivided attention to their patients. Rather than speaking to a patient over the rattling of a keyboard while looking at a glowing screen, physicians with interoperable technology can take pause and focus on human-oriented, patient-centered care.

In fact, studies show that “system-wide, relationship-centered communication skills training improved patient satisfaction scores, improved physician empathy, self-efficacy, and reduced physician burnout.” Relationship-centered care not only improves the end goal of a better patient experience, but it also improves physician well-being.

Overcoming Barriers and Realizing Opportunities

Similar to the challenges shared by providers and payers, digital health market suppliers face barriers to interoperability, but also tremendous opportunity.

Thanks to the brilliant minds of many digital health market suppliers, healthcare is changing for the better. While this is a commendable feat, there’s still room for growth through connected patient data. Interoperability is the difference between innovative technology and a transformative force—it allows tech market suppliers to scale, broadening reach to make a real impact on patient care.


Sponsored content. The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

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