Six Considerations to Further Community Paramedicine Interoperability

Interoperability—it’s the next big idea in healthcare.

So many communities are working toward this goal, and community paramedicine is one of the segments that would benefit most from better healthcare interoperability.

Anyone in EMS already knows how important interoperability is: A critical part of the job is handing off the patient to the ER staff and telling them what you know. But what if it could be easier? What if interoperability were written into the technology you use right from your ePCRs, and you could send all that information to the doctor in addition to speaking to them? What if those physicians could send you information about at-risk patients with chronic diseases whose acute outbreaks could be prevented with proper management? Straight from the ED to the community paramedicine team—that’s why interoperability can be so powerful for EMS, and especially community paramedicine.

In that vein we’ve put together several considerations to marinate over on your quest for better community paramedicine interoperability and better outcomes for the patients you serve every day.

  1. Are your vendors willing to help?

A critical component of improving community paramedicine interoperability is the willingness of your vendors. Are the vendors you work with willing to share your data with other vendors? The answers will vary.

Within EMS some ePCR vendors allow full integrations with other vendors. They understand those records are “your” data and believe you can move it wherever you like. However, others might throw up roadblocks or charge hefty tolls for sending your data to other vendors. The data you collect on your patients is yours, not your platform’s, and you should be able to share it with any appropriate organization you wish at no cost (via HIPAA-compliant platforms, of course).

To move healthcare forward, it’s important to know where your vendor stands before you sign a contract. Write interoperability clauses into your contracts. If a vendor balks at the interoperability clause, find someone else. Make sure the vendor knows upfront that you’d like to share data with community partners and other vendors. Vendors may charge for that integration but also make sure that cost is reasonable.

  1. Having a dedicated IT team member for connections and compliance makes interoperability a lot easier.

While it’s easy to be theoretically on board with interoperability, it’s often more complex in practice. Deciding to have an IT staff handle all connections and compliance matters might seem like overkill, but it’s extremely helpful to furthering needed technical integrations. An appointed point person can direct their energies to make interoperability more accessible to community paramedicine and EMS as a whole.

  1. It’s easy to stick to the status quo—emotionally.

Often interoperability issues occur not because operability is impossible or even technically difficult, but because of individuals who might block innovation and modernized methods because it isn’t what they’re used to. Interoperability is hard–there are unknowns, since it isn’t universal yet.

Now technology has developed to the point where we can have healthcare systems talk to each other. If the systems are HIPAA- and CFR 42-compliant, then it makes sense to allow it to happen and move your organization forward. Don’t let your IT organization be stuck in a quagmire of existing conditions.

  1. Patient health comes first.

We don’t yet have a standard of protocols for healthcare interoperability, as it’s a relatively new ambition. Thus many organizations hide behind HIPAA and withhold patient information. Patient data has traditionally been quite private, and for good reason. But if there are ways to share patient data safely and compliantly and it increases the chances of patients getting the full care they need instead of slipping through the cracks, then interoperability solutions should be seriously considered.

Reluctance and suspicion are understandable, but remember that patients are not data bytes moving between software platforms but individuals who need help. At a minimum patients should expect and deserve their community organizations to collaborate and coordinate the best care possible. Just imagine if a hospital could work closely with a behavioral health clinic or send patients to relevant organizations to help them find housing or food assistance. It might be easy to stick to the status quo, but the status quo also creates the cracks through which patients may slip without proper support.

  1. Information blocking is illegal.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services has mandated that electronic health record certification prohibits “information blocking” under the 21st Century Cures Act. And yes, hefty charges for the sharing of data count as information blocking. If a vendor is charging you considerable fees to share your data with another vendor, call them out. Not only is blocking that information transfer unethical, since it doesn’t put the patient’s health first, it’s also illegal.

Remember that when certain stakeholders, such as some healthcare technology companies, are financially incentivized to block the sharing of patient health information, they might attempt to charge lofty fees for information sharing.

  1. The technical challenges of community paramedicine interoperability have been significantly reduced.

It used to be that interoperability was a technically challenging task to accomplish. That an individual’s health involves multiple agencies—including medical care, social care, housing, planning, and education, each with their own software systems—used to mean gathering accurate information that could be sent to each agency was a near-impossible feat.

That is no longer the case today. Today there’s Julota.

Winner of a 2018 EMS World Innovation Award, Julota is a cutting-edge community paramedicine software platform that solves interoperability issues. Julota can deeply integrate with any healthcare vendor—entirely free of charge. Since its inception in 2015, more than 70 communities across the U.S. have implemented Julota, and it’s helped them reduce their high-utilizer calls, improve the health of their populations, decrease their costs, and elevate their reputations. Validating these outcomes with data justifies bigger budgets for community paramedicine, which means more patients helped, all while lowering costs.

Julota is a cloud-based SaaS platform that manages the consent and multidirectional sharing of PHI (personal health information) and PII (personally identifiable information) between software systems for healthcare, EMS, law enforcement, behavioral health, social services, and all other local nonprofit and for-profit organizations. If you’re hoping to have your community paramedicine program push forward healthcare interoperability, integrating with Julota is a great step toward that goal.