Healthcare, Air Travel and Interoperability

The healthcare industry is notorious for its severely disconnected practices. Often, a patient finds herself caught in the middle of the shuffle. If you’ve recently received medical care or attempted to schedule a doctor’s visit, you are certainly familiar with the headaches associated with the process. The article “If Air Travel worked like Health Care” from the National Journal, accurately and humorously sums up the issues we face.

As a patient, interacting with the healthcare industry feels overwhelming and disconnected. Unfortunately, we are forced to tolerate a high level of absurdity when trying to complete relatively simple tasks. As a consumer, we would rarely accept such circumstances in any other industry, but it seems when it comes to healthcare, we have limited recourse. Patients seeking care face repetitive lines of questioning and seemingly unending wait times as the entire industry suffers from a lack of interoperability.

The patient in the National Journal article, after being sold a flight departing months past his desired travel date, after he is required to fax in a consent form, and after he must call a separate company to handle his baggage, informs the customer service representative that in a modern system, he would be sold “a safe round-trip journey, instead a series of separate procedures. It would have back-office personnel using modern IT systems to coordinate my journey behind the scenes. The systems and personnel would talk to each other automatically. At the press of a button, once I entered a password, they would be able to look up my travel history. We’d do most of this stuff online.” He’s describing the way most industries operate today, from air travel to banking to freight transportation, all of which are able to successfully communicate between systems, companies and types of data.

This article highlights, in a light-hearted way, the tension created by trying to coordinate answers to simple questions like appointment scheduling or billing inquiries while on the phone with a provider or health plan. All the healthcare stakeholders, patients, providers and health plans, are frustrated by the lack of interoperability and the high administrative costs to accomplish simple tasks like scheduling an appointment.

Providing healthcare in this disconnected manner is expensive and unsustainable. As we look to the future, health systems and health communications will need to be integrated across IT systems, providers, specialist offices, labs and health plans. Data will need to be mobile, secure and efficient. It will need to be accessible when and where it’s required by authorized personnel.