If you want to see healthcare technology executives’ eyes roll back in their heads, start a discussion on interoperability. Most consider it the epitome of hype-curve terms, which almost immediately positions the deliverer as out of touch with the needs of the modern healthcare IT buyer.
Don’t get me wrong. Do healthcare payers and providers need interoperability? Of course they do. But the term is so overarching it’s like saying humans need food to survive.
The question healthcare practitioners need answered is, “What can I do to go beyond the EHR interoperability hyped by vendors and get to the next level of integrating disparate platforms for increased value of care and patient satisfaction?”
Of course, most vendors will say they already do this. But as John Halamka, a rockstar healthcare CIO, says, there is very little incentive to make products work too well with those of competitors at the expense of selling new product of their own.
Many believe the answer is development of application programming interfaces (APIs) which permit communications and data exchange between as-a-Service platforms that weren’t necessarily intended to be integrated with other tools.
You may be saying, “What’s so new about that?” And you’d be right. This isn’t revolutionary. APIs are essential elements in many data-sharing platforms, and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) standard has become yet another buzzword in interoperability discussions. But this standard is largely applied to healthcare data transfer compatibility, so its scope is somewhat limited in the broader healthcare context.
For example, there may be instances where healthcare enterprises want to exchange data between care planning and supply chain with the traditional EHR platform.
One of the greatest areas of API focus is in making the inventory of transplantable parts more efficient. By some counts there is upward of $5 billion in waste as a result of excess inventory in replacement joints. On the other hand, some healthcare providers can spend millions each year on FedEx charges because certain joints are not in inventory.
To address this problem, APIs have been developed that link patient records and replacement joint inventories with real-time operating room schedules. These in turn link with preferred medical device sales representatives so parts arrive prior to the procedure and without the need for express charges.
As with the retail sector, eliminating stagnant inventory is key for economic survival. In a way, healthcare is no different than auto parts retailers who only want to stock replacement parts that are “moving.”
This “supply chain of implantable devices” has become increasingly important given the laser focus on value-based care over the previous “all you can eat” model.
New forms of AI and predictive analysis are now adding to the enrichment of API-driven supply chain/EHR convergence. A third element that would rarely be included to mainstream EHRs is the convergence of social media with supply chain, also known as “social supply chain.”
Under this model, social APIs are used to provide usage healthcare demand trends that, when mapped with EHR data, could provide more precise inventory demand and surplus controls than if using a more visceral model. For example, monitoring social media feeds related to the Zika virus could provide an indicator of pharmacy and sterilization needs at various provider sites.
Going back to the auto parts metaphor, by monitoring weather reports and increase in social media posts about cars being covered with a crust of ice, parts dealers can increase the inventory of wiper blades that will need to be replaced.
At this time, simply linking EHR and supply chain through APIs is cutting edge. But as more linkages are created between seemingly dissimilar processes, the development of APIs as standard features will increase dramatically.