Pathology & Meaningful Use

Vol. 23 • Issue 2 • Page 27

Meaningful Use

The implementation of Meaningful Use has already had a substantial impact on healthcare facilities, an impact which only stands to grow as facilities integrate Meaningful Use (MU) Phase 2. For pathologists and pathology practices, the effect of the switch has been focused on clinical testing and diagnostics. The improved testing combined with MU standards and the introduction of electronic health records (EHRs) has led to an improved way of looking at “the whole patient” – seeing all the information rather than the results of a single test.

In a recent interview with ADVANCE, Lisa-Jean Clifford, CEO of Psyche Systems Corporation, discussed the influence of MU on pathologists in healthcare facilities across the country. Her company provides LIS solutions for clinical, molecular, microbiology and anatomic pathology facilities, also offering connectivity extension modules for LIS systems across the board. In the case of healthcare systems incorporating EHR and MU, Clifford pointed out that standardization is essential in terms of the communication of patient information, especially for pathologists in those facilities.

“I think that it’s going to provide more standardization and has the potential, if implemented correctly and consistently across organizations and full healthcare facilities, to improve patients’ outcomes and patient care,” she explained.

One area of standardization stressed by Clifford was the portability of available patient information within a system. The concept of an electronic footprint of patient information throughout their continuum of care, allowing physicians the ability to access that information as necessary regardless of their location, could re-shape the way health facilities operate both independently as well as with other facilities within a system. This is especially important in making sure all aspects of a patient’s health are being considered, rather than simply relying on the results of a singular test.

While standardization is beneficial overall, some portions of integration are more applicable to one area of a health system than another. In laboratories, for example, standards require SNOMED coding capabilities even though these are not typically utilized in practice, making the obligation largely unnecessary. As facilities and health systems integrate different systems and try to interface technology, on the other hand, standardization is key. The connectivity provided by MU and EHR systems allows physicians and clinicians to study the patient and population to determine the best possible course of action.

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“I think having a standard format and standard interfacing connectivity protocols will certainly enhance or ensure that all disparate systems will be able to provide consistent information in a consistent manor,” continued Clifford. “So that, regardless of the vendor or the platform from an IT or an HIT perspective, the patient information will be the same.”

Part of the reason for the unnecessary criteria in certain areas of healthcare is what Clifford views as somewhat excessive government regulation. As facilities and healthcare system are adjusting and preparing to go through the 2014 phase certification, the industry requires standardization in the overall scheme, but not quite as much when it comes down to specific areas such as certain testing options in the laboratory. She also noted that, although information should be carried via a transmittable data source that ties back to a patient, some of that information would not be relevant during the laboratory portion of their testing or diagnostic process.

“I think the issue is more the government trying to over-standardize and not really employing people who truly understand the nuances of the different areas of healthcare, or not being able to separate out what is truly applicable in specific areas of healthcare,” said Clifford, discussing some obstacles as healthcare organizations continue to implement MU across the country.

Another interesting point discussed during the interview was the idea of a universal system of standardization throughout ðMU. ðAccording to Clifford, making the ðsystem compatible regardless of the equipment will allow physicians and clinicians to have access not only to their individual patients, but across a population of patients as well. This could lead to the increased ability to compare similar cases, circumstances and diagnoses to better patient outcomes. Despite the potential possibilities of more easily interfaced equipment, an overarching solution like this would require tremendous cooperation in the industry.

Despite the apparent hurtles, an effort on behalf of vendors to make sure patient information is available no matter where that patient is hospitalized could make all the difference in efficiency. The key comes down to a more collaborative nature between industry competitors. The more readily different products and technologies are able to communicate important data, the easier it will be for physicians and other medical professionals to make accurate diagnoses without having to waste time duplicating tests that may have already been performed – eventually leading back to the patient, who can receive the appropriate care more quickly.

“Some vendors just don’t play well with each other,” said Clifford. “And, what I’m hoping that this does is lift that barrier, so that vendors are most incented and more likely to work together in a cooperative fashion to make sure that their products are interfacing seamlessly.”

Clifford went on to discuss the importance of putting the patient first. Although the business side of things certainly has an impact on individual facilities, healthcare systems and the industry as a whole, it’s really about providing the best possible care. She commented on vendor politics, saying they shouldn’t have an impact on the information obtained by clinical laboratories and passed on to pathologists and treating physicians. The more cooperation the industry sees from its equipment manufacturers in terms of interfacing between digital tools and solutions, the better the communication of vital information to those seeking answers.

A pathologist’s ability to access patient information is directly related to their ability to diagnose based on “the whole patient,” a concept that Clifford noted as being vital to delivering a better understanding of an individual patient and, subsequently, a more accurate diagnosis.

As clinical laboratory technologies improve and MU is implemented in healthcare facilities around the country, that information has never been more readily available for diagnostic pathologists. The integration of EHRs continues to better ðconnectivity both within individual hospitals and whole healthcare systems, but the need for greater standardization in system interfacing remains as medical professionals are looking for better connectivity between the clinical laboratory and pathology assays, equipment and instruments.

Michael Jones is on staff at ADVANCE.

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