The Rising Demand for Standardization in Healthcare

By Marc Probst, CIO, Intermountain Healthcare

Marc Probst, CIO, Intermountain Healthcare

The acceleration of standards development in healthcare informatics adds value to both efficient healthcare delivery, as well as the national economy. Currently, there is a lack of proper data standards in the healthcare industry, as opposed to say, the electrical or power sectors. The lack of standards is taking a toll on the productivity of the healthcare industry. The business case can be viewed from two perspectives: taking a look at the financial business case, this equates to wasted money, due to lack of standards, which can be quantified from excessive or improper care provided to patients. Next in line is the mortality rate, which has risen by an alarming 10 percent across the globe. Travelling from one zip code of Utah to another will show you these variations. This declares the prime need to develop standards. The ecosystem of healthcare providers, the government, and further stakeholders exists; leadership is the quality that is missing. The potential lives that are lost due to this deficiency are only mounting.

Typical Challenges CIOs Face

Interoperability is currently considered more than a buzzword, but a progressive movement. Creating truly interoperable systems is what companies are wishing to attain. Speaking purely about clinical data associated with patients, transferring data from one system to another is a challenge. This is because, in healthcare, there is no single provider of data. The Medicare population alone requires multiple providers. In short, information does not flow as smoothly, rendering the decision-making processes ineffective. From a data perspective, interoperability is therefore sought after. Little attention is given to interoperability from a knowledge standpoint. For instance, at Intermountain Healthcare, the knowledge built into our systems has been acquired from years of accumulation. With the aid of this knowledge, we were able to create a protocol aimed to help children; a child in our pediatric hospital is taken off a ventilator—on an average—24 hours quicker than anywhere else in the country. The knowledge obtained to drive this protocol has been useful, but sharing this knowledge is a daunting task, which yet again points fingers at the lack of proper standards to support this, as data and metrics vary from system to system. Healthcare centers are increasingly infusing innovation in procedures and practices, but they are scattered. With the right standards in place, we could successfully create a clearinghouse of these practices, wherein the entire human population could receive the optimal level of care.

"The lack of standards is definitely taking a toll on the productivity of the healthcare industry; the major problem is ignoring the significance of the issue at hand"

Standardization in Healthcare

Vendors have standards. In fact, they are unique and differ from system to system, depending entirely on the implementation process. For instance, a vendor implementing a platform or software on a system at Intermountain Healthcare would be dependent on the number of facilities onboard, the type and preferences of physicians, etc. The ultimate goal lies in configuring the system in a way that is unique to Intermountain Healthcare. Diving into the security aspect, I believe standards will significantly improve the current scenario, wherein security is a significant concern. Tasks, such as looking for anomalies within the data will become easier. Standards would definitely play a key role in pushing the sector towards better security. In addition to this, minor issues that have intimidating impacts on the arena, such as patient identification errors can be combated. Anyone associated with the health system is susceptible to being misidentified, leading to further harm and challenges in the holistic care process. This acts as a foundational root issue within the healthcare information technology sector. Additionally, standards would vastly impact consumerism, which points at many different directions. There are so many outlets from which data pours in. This information could result beneficial in patient experience and maintaining their care, but their lack of being standardized makes measuring the veracity of this data questionable. Nevertheless, this is not the most alarming of issues and pertains mostly to the convenience of consumers.

Over the last forty-five years as an industry of healthcare IT, we have proven that the issue revolving around the lack of standards cannot be solved on our own; there are too many diverse interests. Our only hope lies in the hands of the federal leadership, and until they take matters into their hands, we cannot expect a significant change in the healthcare IT arena in the near future. Having said that, I believe that day is not far and subtly resembles the success story of the Australian Railroads. When they first got into the railroad business, it was very opportunistic: for transporting coal, livestock, and others. The gauges were all across the country, but very disruptive and disconnected. Eventually, shifting to a single gauge was their turning point with regard to standard, which will be witnessed soon in the healthcare sector as well.

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