The healthcare industry often is accused of delivering a disjointed customer experience. This typically is not due to a lack of interest in patient care by hardworking caregivers; rather because information is locked in data silos developed to capture clinical documentation and facilitate billing.

With the rise of consumerism, increasing competition, federal mandates, and incentive changes by payers, health system leaders and IT suppliers have been jolted into action in recent years. Rather than being rewarded for merely doing more procedures and seeing more patients, providers are increasingly rewarded for delivering measurably higher quality.

The keys to healthcare success in the quality-driven era are data exchange and system interoperability. This has opened a new opportunity for innovation and Indiana’s healthcare and tech leaders are stepping up to meet this need with an initiative aimed at spawning innovation by developing apps that integrate with the leading Epic electronic health record (EHR) system.

Over the past decade, health system executives have rushed to implement EHRs and enhanced billing systems to qualify for meaningful use (MU) mandates that carried a federal cash incentive if completed and a less desirable penalty if left incomplete. Equipped with these systems, providers can document care episodes to code and bill for those procedures. While these are important internal, back office functions, a chasm exists in how they can serve the needs of customers demanding improved service and proactive engagement by their providers.

In order to drive increased value for both patients and providers, clinical and back office systems must become open and extensible to facilitate information access and transparency for patients across multiple providers and care settings. As the iPhone has taught the world, the key to innovation and value is to provide an open platform for enabling thousands of innovators to develop apps that meet the many unique needs of consumers. With apps, healthcare can truly become connected.

The goal of connected healthcare is not merely making all patient records available electronically. It requires that a patient’s records are available across all care settings to both the provider and the consumer, and that health systems and providers have visibility into their entire addressable customer base. It’s not just about “sick care.” It’s about keeping people well to live long, healthy lives and avoid hospital stays whenever possible.

Connected health sounds easy enough in a world accustomed to accessing a wide range of apps and data on different devices. However, behind the scenes it is extremely complicated to facilitate data exchange and interoperability.

With Meaningful Use legislation, the government has mandated that IT system vendors make healthcare information open and accessible to third party systems and apps via secure protocols. Recently, industry leaders and government representatives have criticized and challenged certain technology vendors and care providers for data blocking, which thwarts information sharing and makes second opinions, price comparisons, and the creation of useful apps virtually impossible. In a major breakthrough, Health and Human Services reached an agreement with major EHR vendors to improve the flow of health information to consumers and providers.

An important interoperability standard that is quickly gaining momentum is the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR), which provides a fast and easy way for systems to exchange data securely in healthcare. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has been helping to fuel adoption of this new standard by launching FHIR-based App development challenges—complete with cash prizes.

Top Indiana innovators are following suit to improve healthcare through the development of apps that integrate with the market-leading Epic EHR system. Just as Indiana leads in the health information exchange (HIE) industry, the state is now poised to launch a new app development revolution in the healthcare industry.

On April 23-24, Indiana HIMSS, Eskenazi Health, hc1.com, and a variety of other sponsors hosted a Connect-a-Thon that brought together leading developers and innovators to build the next generation of integrated and interoperable health solutions.

Participants were challenged to use the FHIR application programming interface standards to build new applications addressing common healthcare issues, including identifying at-risk populations, monitoring patients, and enabling outstanding service across the care continuum.

Creating a new healthcare paradigm that delivers personalized service through connected and widely accessible information is now within reach. Through the efforts of Indiana’s healthcare leaders, technology companies, and developers, making connected health a reality may become Indiana’s next major breakthrough.

Brad Bostic is CEO of hc1.com.

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