In our last conversation about “What the market says you need in your patient portal” we discussed the needs of integration and interoperability. This is an area that, while interesting to the IT team, often does not get a lot of attention. This is not because this topic lacks interest, rather, it’s just not the most appealing topic to talk about. For example, when you are remodeling your bathroom, you discuss the fixtures, the new shower, the new faucets, even the fancy commode; but do you get excited talking about the plumbing? Likely not, however it is the ability to move and connect the items of interest together that makes the project all come together. If you do not connect something the right way you get water all over…or worse.
So, what does this have to do with clinical and financial data? For one, the data is generally in various systems and data stores throughout the organization and generally it comes from multiple organizations. For example, if you look at these concepts from a health plans point of view, the clinical data is coming from HIE’s, provider facilities, clinical labs, purchased data sources, and others. The financial data is coming from claim systems across multiple lines of business, GL systems, AR/AP systems, and others. All of this data still has to be aggregated, cleansed and organized to make it useful. This is not an easy task and having the strategy, the information models, the plan and the governance are all key to ensuring success of these efforts.
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Another reason integration is important is it helps define the consumer of the information. Typically, financial data has been reserved to back office functions or it is used to help define/negotiate the cost of services whether they be premiums, reimbursements, subsidies, etc. With the advent of consumerism, the patient is demanding more information in this arena. Patients want to know what their total cost of services are. They want to know the details of the fees. They want the ability to compare costs, values, outcomes so they can make a well-defined choice. Patients generally look at the cost as the driver, yet there are behavioral changes that need to be overcome; e.g. the higher priced option must be the best, right?
There is a lot still to overcome in this area as providers have typically held on to this information and patients may not be able to understand the complexities of where the money actually flows. Integrating the clinical and financial data is a stepping stone in the path to a full consumer-driven healthcare model. Government mandates are forcing the need for change, however, breaking down the walls to integrate information will not be easy. Meaningful Use Stage 2 (MU2) will be one of the drivers to help make healthcare interoperability a reality.
Core to solving these problems is having a clear understanding of the business capabilities and processes that drive the solutions. Understanding (documenting) the business capabilities, defining the information needs (again documenting) and then defining the business processes (yes writing it down) that act between the capabilities and information will be the blueprints and guides to setting and achieving the vision. With the vision established, we then can begin the process of connecting the dots of where the information lives to where it needs to go and the format which it needs to be in. There are a number of technical challenges given that interoperability is not just a simple plug-n-play solution. The movement of the information needs to follow standards (which by-enlarge exist) yet all of the connections and the subtleties of the content need to be clearly outlined in the road map of integrating clinical and financial data.
This concludes our “What the market says you need in your patient portal” blog series.