Healthcare informatics

COVID-19 Disrupted Federal Interoperability Policy. What is the Silver Lining, and How Should CIOs Capitalize on It?

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.

Relying on Experience to Bolster Interoperability

No one can predict the landscape of a post-COVID-19 world, and how regulation will play out when that time comes. But one thing is for certain – the advancements made over the last six months in crosshealth system and payer collaboration, teleradiology and telehealth, and virtual workflows will forever change patient care and how we view interoperability as an avenue for greater good. Many organizations will come to a crossroads – will they transition to mostly virtual operations, or transition back to an in-patient system? Despite what path an organization chooses to take, this divide only further highlights the need for systems to speak to one another and improve data visibility, regardless of one’s chosen ways of working and care delivery.

Navigating in the unknown and with no time to waste, imaging IT leaders should examine their data flows, develop potential care scenarios, determine what defined set of data is needed for each, and outline a strategy to get on track toward compliant, interoperable operations. The healthcare and imaging industry should rely on proven, scalable capabilities and decide how best to build upon them systematically. As a CIO, if you are not already a part of a large health information network, such as eHealth Exchange or CommonWell, talk to your vendor about joining one of these “tried and true” interoperability networks to ensure you are positioned well for upcoming regulatory pushes, and inevitable future initiatives for private and public collaboration.

Interoperability for the Greater Good

Instead of the data “land grab,” siloed care and information blocking that has defined healthcare’s digital transformation up until this point, COVID-19, in tandem with this recent federal push, has encouraged organizations to focus their energy on stronger, collaborative public health. It takes a village to ensure data is standardized and accessible. At Philips, we are your partner in helping you assess your operations and working with you to ensure you capitalize on the innovative approaches and new ways of working developed during COVID-19.