Currently, when healthcare data moves in this country it does it using fax machines and patient sneaker-nets. Automated digital interoperability is still in its earliest stages, mostly it has a history of being actively resisted by both the EHR vendors and large healthcare providers. We, as an industry, should be doing better, and our failure to do so is felt everyday by patients across the country.
The ONC-defined difference between EHRs and EMRs is that EHRs are interoperable. Yet, as I have said before, we have spent almost a billions of dollars and generally gotten EMRs instead of EHRs.
Comments were due Apr 3 for the ONC Interoperability Roadmap for 2015-2020. This was specifically separated out from the overall ONC Health IT Strategic Plan for which comments have closed.
Both of these plans ignore the lessons in execution from the previous strategic plan for health IT from ONC. The current Interoperability Roadmap mentions the “NwHIN” (Nationwide Health Information Network) for instance, and only covers what it accomplished, which are mostly policy successes like the DURSA (Data Use and Reciprocal Support Agreement). NwHIN was supposed to be a network of networks that connected every provider in the country… why hasn’t that happened?
ONC has forgotten what the actual ambition was in 2010. It was not to create cool policy documents. The plan 5 years ago was to have the “interoperability problem” solved in 5 years. The plan 5 years before that was probably to solve the problem in 5 years. Apparently, our policy makers look at interoperability and say “wow this is a big problem, we need at least 5 years to solve it”. Without any sense of ironic awareness that this is what they have been saying for decades, even before Kolodner was the ONC.
There has been much enthusiasm in the health IT industry regarding the health data standard that HL7 International is working on, HL7 FHIR, which is now a DSTU (draft standard for trial use). Everyone involved with health data – EHR vendors, interoperability vendors, medical app developers, “big data” proponents and hospital CIOs, to name a few – have high hopes that FHIR can be the golden ticket that leads to true health care interoperability.
Most of the enthusiasm is around the technologies being utilized in the standard including RESTful web services, JSON encoding, and granular data content called resources.
Technology-Empowered FHIR Data
RESTful web services, in particular, is a technology that has been strongly embraced by other industries and has the potential to be leveraged for engaging patients by connecting mobile technologies with their provider’s EHR system. This advancement represents a huge step toward building a patient-centered health care system.
Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has utilized SOAP-based web services to transfer documents. Most programmers today, if given their choice, would likely lean towards RESTful web services, preferably with data encoded in the JSON format. It is a better choice for mobile applications independent of whether the client device technology is iOS, Android, Windows, or even Mobile Web. Most social media sites today, such as Twitter and Facebook, publish RESTful APIs for connectivity.
This preference towards RESTful web services is based on some of the advantages that REST has over SOAP: