COVID-19 Disrupted Federal Interoperability Policy. What is the Silver Lining, and How Should CIOs Capitalize on It?
Across the globe, interoperability is becoming an regulatory priority. For many however, COVID-19 was an unexpected obstacle. For example, in the U.S., just days after the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced unprecedented rules to advance interoperability and ease patient access to data, COVID-19 swept across the nation, resulting in shelter in place orders as cases surged. While it is natural to assume that COVID-19 only slowed this momentum and delayed widespread enforcement, there is a silver lining to this pandemic. If nothing else, COVID-19 has manifested the exact need interoperability regulation intend to fill – transparency of clinical data and break down of silos – and gives us tangible, real world examples of how patient data should be shared, with who and where.
For what has been a laborious regulatory process to enforce interoperability and elevate its importance, COVID-19 has helped to significantly amplify the clinical and operational risks that result from a lack of seamless data sharing at scale. The interoperability obstacles, innovative solutions and heightened collaboration we’ve experienced during the pandemic will help inform and encourage health systems to create ecosystems that will better serve their business and their patients in the future – particularly in face of a potential second wave of COVID-19 or other infectious disease outbreak, during which ease of data access among dispersed care teams is critical for business continuity and infection control.
As a CIO, you have the responsibility to take the lessons learned during these last few months and turn them into an actionable interoperability strategy, setting your organization up for successful compliance to new federal timelines and regulation. This is particularly imperative for imaging departments – while imaging has been slower in its ability to digitize patient data and break out of silos, in the U.S., the exchange of diagnostic reports for radiology is now a part of the HHS certification criteria to make data types more accessible. Despite the delay in the implementation of federal rules, imaging IT leaders should use this as an opportunity to fast-track their interoperability strategy.