For years, the concept of “interoperability” has been something of a holy grail in the exchange of health care information. Interoperability is the open flow of electronic communication across all sectors of patient care. This includes exchange of clinical information-- medical histories, lab results, prescription statuses, and appointment records-- between health care professionals and patients. But true interoperability encompases seamless transmission of data across all sectors of the health care system, including both clinical and financial realms.
There are numerous stakeholders in the move towards true interoperability. Besides clients and health care professionals, other relevant parties include billing personnel, public health agencies, home health care professionals, and the federal government. Indeed, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, originally signed into law into 2009, worked towards “the nationwide electronic exchange and use of health information …including connecting health information exchanges,” and directed the Department of Health and Human Services along “with all partners in the health care and health IT industries” to “develop the technologies and policies to deliver information securely, privately, and accurately to whomever needs to see it on behalf of the patient’s health.”
Although for years achieving true interoperability seemed like a pipe dream, recent developments in digital communications and electronic health records have made the seamless flow of patient data and information a real possibility. Ours is already a very digitally connected society, and as more and more digital natives become participants in the health care system, the expectation for instant access to all facets of patient care will only rise.
This leads to some challenges, however, as many of the current means of digital communication are potentially unsecure and non-HIPAA compliant. By far the most common method of digital communication is text messages via one’s Smartphone. This type of communication is uniquely accessible and immediate, and as more and more people have access to digital devices, such electronic communications offer intriguing possibilities in the move towards interoperability. The fact of the matter, though, is that most SMS communications are unsecure and fail to achieve levels of patient protection set forth in HIPAA. And since much PHI is of a highly sensitive manner, unsecure messaging opens up the client to a high degree of risk (and health care professionals to potentially costly legal penalties).
Despite the potential risks, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is committed to pursuing interoperability. One way that an interoperable framework utilizing instant digital communications is being realized is through a new generation of secure messaging applications. These applications, such as AMTELCO’s miSecureMessages app, utilize security features like end-to-end encryption, off-device storage of messages, robust passcode and password settings, and allowance of remote disabling to allow for both HIPAA-compliant security measures and the convenience provided through personal device usage.
It is clear that the holy grail of interoperability is drawing ever closer, and that secure messaging apps like miSecureMessages will be a big part of this future.