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Dr. Karen DeSalvo, ONC

ONC, West Health see mobile interoperability saving $30B annually

By Joseph Conn
Posted: March 24, 2014 - 2:00 pm ET

If mobile medical devices had greater interoperability, which means they could better communicate with each other, the nation could avoid more than $30 billion a year in wasteful healthcare spending, according to a joint white paper by the Gary and Mary West Health Institute, a San Diego-based mobile health technology advocacy organization, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

“Waste reduction through greater medical device interoperability would lead to increased efficiency, improved quality and more affordable care,” the report authors note. “Commonly adopted standards can accelerate the move toward greater medical device interoperability and potentially reduce the cost of achieving interoperability. With all of the caveats associated with estimating the value of a process improvement not yet deployed, our combined top-down and bottom-up modeling suggests that annual savings in excess of $30 billion may be liberated by widespread adoption of functional interoperability for medical devices.”

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Promoting interoperability between health information technology systems has been a goal of the ONC since its inception nearly a decade ago. Patient-centered healthcare has been a focus of healthcare reform efforts since publication of Crossing the Quality Chasm, a seminal report issued by the Institute of Medicine in 2001.

But mobile health is a relative newcomer to the health IT stage, albeit a fast growing one. The federally launched Blue Button initiative to create a lingua franca for patients to copy and upload their medical data is winning private-sector converts while a private-sector initiative to provide connection points between main line electronic health records and outside app developers called Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources debuted at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Convention last month in Orlando, Fla. The goal is to leverage outside developers to create applications for existing EHR platforms just as thousands of developers create apps for smartphones, according to Health Level Seven, the standards development organization spearheading the FHIR project.

Much work needs to be done, however, to bring these and other mobile interoperability channels into the mainstream, the report's authors said.

“To realize the benefits, providers, payers, medical device manufacturers and the government will need to collaborate and partner to promote the development and adoption of seamlessly interoperable devices. Industry trends are already driving providers and payers to converge and share risk through care coordination, clinical integration and improved population health management,” they said. “Stakeholder collaboration is expected to provide a strong platform for accelerating adoption of medical device interoperability and realizing its associated benefits.”

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who leads the ONC, has announced her intention to press for patient-centered technologies.

“ONC envisions an information-rich, consumer-centered healthcare system that allows a patient's health information to follow them wherever they get their care,” DeSalvo said in a news release. “We are working with patients, providers and others across healthcare and health IT to securely and safely free health information that will help to improve patient care and health, at lower costs.”

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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