We have made tremendous strides in deploying technology solutions that are creating a safer, more efficient and more consumer-friendly health care system.

What’s telehealth?

Most hospitals now have in place information technology systems that consistently monitor clinical performance against quality measures. We’ve made it easier for doctors to order tests or prescriptions electronically, and built in alerts to safeguard against potential medical errors. Telehealth services continue to expand. And, increasingly, mobile devices and apps give clinicians new ways to connect with patients.

Yet as we continue down this journey to digitize health care, we must tackle, once and for all, the problem that providers face in exchanging patient information. Central to achieving that is solving the interoperability puzzle.

3-D puzzle

Interoperability is a complex problem. An electronic medical record can contain as many as 100,000 different data fields. The fact is, there are no clear, mandatory and enforced standards for health care information in the United States. Consequently, health care software suppliers have developed different data fields within their systems, and providers routinely ask for customizations unique to their organizations.

"Just think about how many John Smiths live in your town."

Think about the multitude of ways you are asked to record your birthday, for instance. The lack of uniformly adopted and specific standards makes data sharing a clumsy process. In fact, in a study released last October, providers and health IT vendors alike identified the lack of clear standards as one of the biggest barriers to interoperability and improved information exchange.

Let’s see some ID

Another significant hurdle highlighted in the report, “Interoperability 2015: Current State and Next Steps,” is our inability to accurately identify patients 100 percent of the time. The problem of patient identification has actually been around for decades, but the digitization of health care has only exacerbated the problem.

Just think about how many John Smiths live in your town. If John Smith is not accurately identified, a host of problems—from relatively minor billing mistakes to significant clinical decisions—can occur. Various studies suggest that patient identification error rates range from 7 to 20 percent.

If you or a loved one is in the hospital, what’s an acceptable error rate for being misidentified? I’ve walked in the shoes of the patients who come through the doors of our institutions. My wife, son and daughter all faced and overcame serious medical conditions in recent years. As we transitioned between multiple specialists and hospitals, we saw firsthand the problem of medical records not being exchanged, or incomplete records showing up in a physician’s office. We became the continuum of care by carrying around a three-ring binder full of the information and medical records. Our patients deserve better.