Healthcare Integration: Benefits and Challenges

Key Takeaways

  • Healthcare integration lowers medical expenses by speeding up the diagnosis process and eliminating the need for unnecessary tests in return.
  • As per the Cures Act, data liquidity is vital to counter the interoperability challenges faced during healthcare integrations.
  • Meaningful Use (MU) and value-based care are two ever-changing rules in the healthcare sector and pose a challenge for healthcare integrations.

A rise in demand for remote patient monitoring amongst patients and personalized care in the healthcare industry is driving the growth of the healthcare IT integration market in today’s time.

The market is expected to reach $7.32 billion by 2027 at a CAGR of 11.2 percent during the 2019-2027 forecast timeframe. The growing need for healthcare integration is because it helps to reduce medical costs and offers a better patient experience. It makes operations at hospitals and clinics easy and lessens administrative burden as well. Below is a list of major benefits and challenges commonly observed during healthcare integration.

Major Benefits of Healthcare Integration

1. Lower Healthcare Cost

Using different healthcare applications and systems to manage care is cumbersome and results in higher medical expenses. For example, if a patient is utilizing a patient portal app to access medical records and also a telemedicine application for consultations, then this adds to the expenses (not to forget surplus medication charges).

By integrating features and functions of various healthcare systems under one roof, hospitals can provide the same quality of care to patients at the minimum rate possible. EHR, patient portals, or medical billing system integrations in a telemedicine application enhances the authenticity of an app and allows patients to access all medical features in one place. Thus, reducing their expenses as well.

Further, sharing data in an integrated healthcare model speeds up the diagnosis process and eliminates redundant tests, thereby reducing costs for both healthcare facilities and patients alike.

2. Patient Satisfaction

According to the Harris Poll conducted by Tegria, key facets such as healthcare technology, providers’ kindness, and virtual care are playing a vital role in enhancing patient satisfaction. The survey suggests that 69 percent of Americans would consider switching to another healthcare provider that offers more appealing services. The desire for high-quality medical services is driving patient satisfaction rates.

Patients feel satisfied if their data is secure and protected, which is a crucial aspect of healthcare integration. As per a study published in the JAMIA (Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association), the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) interoperability rule, developers are required to adopt a regulation that addresses patient privacy protections on third-party applications.

Further, all hospitals and clinics are swiftly adopting the use of EHR (Electronic Health Records) and integrating them into their healthcare systems. EHR is useful in maintaining patient satisfaction by helping physicians communicate with patients and offer better care.

Patients feel satisfied with EHR integrations as it encourages them to take ownership of their health by using educational resources and clinical summaries. Along with this, healthcare integrations such as e-prescriptions reduce patient wait times and manage medications, hence augmenting patient satisfaction.

3. Quality of Care

The main aim of healthcare integrations is to ensure quality care to patients in the best way possible. For instance, the integration of features such as RPM (Remote Patient Monitoring), live video consultations, patient resources, and more in telemedicine apps improves the quality of care.

Remote electronic collection of data and its transmission to a provider allows medical professionals to track healthcare data post-discharge or during home care. Hence, reducing the hospital readmission rates and surging the quality of care through RPM integration.

Further, healthcare integrations allow the secured transfer of EHR records and ePHI (Protected Health Information), which is protected by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations. This saves time for accessing medical records, which in turn maintains the quality of care.

Vital Challenges of Healthcare Integration

1. HL7 Standards

Version choice and compatibility with healthcare devices are one of the major challenges faced by the HL7 standards. The HL7 standards have two versions, namely 2. x and 3. x, and out of the 2. x is largely used in EHR. However, 3. x isn’t compatible with the 2. x version.

While creating new HL7 interfaces, determine whether they’ll communicate well with the 2. x or 3. x version. Further, secure data transfer is another challenge faced in HL7 messages.

Failure to safeguard crucial medical data hampers the privacy and security of patients as sensitive information is leaked to cybercriminals and they may use it against patients. Hence, to avoid these conditions, consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) tunnel that links two remote sites together via a private network. The FTP (File Transfer Protocol) also helps in the secure transfer of health data.

2. Interoperability

Healthcare interoperability is the ability of healthcare providers and systems to electronically share ePHI amongst each other, and with patients without interference. To attain interoperability, data liquidity needs to be maintained, without which it is labeled as a data blocker under the Cures Act.

For healthcare IT vendors who serve large health networks, inconsistency across networks is a huge challenge. Healthcare professionals place data in countless places across servers, and it takes hours for the IT department to search for it. However, the adoption of a unified network during healthcare integration makes the process of sharing information easy.

Additionally, achieving interoperability in EHR integrations is a lot of work and hiring professionals to maintain EHR interoperability is expensive for smaller health organizations. Hence, consider getting a specialized software platform to maintain interoperability with minimum monthly charges.

Interoperability is a team effort and certain standards help to achieve it, however, it’s difficult to attain it as every standard is different. FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), message formats, and EHR are hard to adopt as they establish several information exchange rules. This results in mismanaged data transfer and processes for hospitals and clinics.

3. Healthcare Data Privacy and Security

Data breaches in the healthcare industry prove that critical information such as social security numbers, addresses, and other histories aren’t safe. However, implementation of rules and regulations such as HIPAA compliance during healthcare integrations can avert breaches of data.

Further, cloud technology gives real-time access to data, thus improving the quality of care, but comes with data breach risks. Hence, healthcare providers need to go beyond legal requirements to protect the safety and privacy of patients.

4. Evolving Regulations

The healthcare industry faces constant changes in rules and regulations, and healthcare developers need to ensure that they’re at par with these regulations. Two of the ever-changing rules are value-based care and meaningful use (MU). Value-based care forces the healthcare industry to ameliorate interoperability.

The old value-based model provided certain compensation to healthcare professionals. Whereas, the new model offers compensations based on the procedure outcomes. Value-based care emphasizes integration, as the only way to know outcomes and to receive compensation is to understand what’s happening with patients at every minute.

On the other hand, meaningful use provides financial incentives to medical practices for determining efficiency, and improving care, and patient safety as a result of converting paper records to electronic ones.

Many challenges are posed by healthcare integration for medical organizations and patients, however, it displays far more benefits to counter these challenges. To avail all benefits of healthcare integration such as augmented patient satisfaction and experience, and to make your organization a top-notch medical facility, get in touch with Arkenea for seamless healthcare integrations.