Unlocking Telemedicine’s Potential with an Interoperability Strategy

By Drew Ivan, executive vice president, Product & Strategy, Rhapsody; part of the HIMSS Interoperability Showcase™ initiative

HIMSS Interoperability Showcase

The HIMSS Interoperability Showcase, part of the HIMSS Global Conference & Exhibition, demonstrates interoperability – the ability for different technology systems to communicate – in real-time with actual products in the marketplace. The following guest post shares the impact seamless data exchange can have on patients, providers and caregivers.

As the business of healthcare evolves and platforms become more ingrained within organizations, new needs are arising that center on interoperability and how to unlock essential information.

For a heterogeneous health system using telemedicine to extend the reach of its specialists, the hub location (e.g., centralized hospital), the spoke site (e.g., a community clinic), and patients already have a relationship. Typically, this means everyone is connected via the same electronic health record (EHR); doctors at the hub site are on the same system as the spoke site, and the patient’s charts and appointments are already in the system.

However, a growing trend in telemedicine is for best-in-class hospitals to provide their specialist services to their affiliated hospital network and to other more loosely tied customers – which can be a double-edged sword. While this does offer new services with a greater reach, the hub and spoke will not have the same EHR system, and clinicians at the hub will not have access to patient data at the spoke – locking critical information away from the clinicians who need it.

In these increasingly common implementations, the only solution is rich, standards-based interoperability among those systems: the hub EHR, the multiple spoke EHRs and the telehealth platform itself.

Organizational Data, Flow and Requirements for Better Interoperability

With this scenario, the biggest issue for clinicians relates to workflow. How can a scheduler at a spoke create an appointment for a clinician at the hub? How can the hub clinician see a schedule comprised of appointments across all spokes on one screen? And how can they review patient records prior to each appointment?

The solution relies on orchestrated workflow across several institutions’ systems to send and receive standardized patient scheduling messages (usually HL7 v2.x scheduling information unsolicited messages) and exchange patient summary documents (often continuity of care document or consolidated clinical document architecture format). Many people are aware of standardized messages and documents, but it is important to be aware that clinical workflows are also standardized and profiled by industry organizations like IHE.

Data flow can also be an issue. In situations where a hub clinician is treating a spoke patient, they may document the encounter in the hub institution’s EHR. Or, the workflow may require the encounter to be documented in the telemedicine software itself. In either case, a copy of the encounter note will need to be transferred to the spoke institution’s EHR system (common formats for this include: CCD, C-CDA, mobile device management, observation result, or a simple PDF file).

Today, it’s impossible to treat interoperability as a feature of telemedicine software or as a step in a telemedicine implementation project. A robust data exchange strategy includes understanding organizational data, flow and requirements, and extends to the procurement and implementation of standards-based interoperable health IT. Developing and following an interoperability strategy should be the foundation of an institution’s telemedicine approach to unlock data and make it a success for providers, clinicians and their patients.

Telemedicine Hub

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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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