Nick Knowlton

The pandemic has accelerated the sense of urgency within the home-based care industry to get and stay connected. As the home becomes a healthcare hub in this new decade, post-acute care (PAC) providers need to up their ability to send and accept data electronically to provide better care for their patients and foster long-lasting referral relationships critical to doing business.

The latter starts with addressing referral sources’ most-mentioned communications frustrations, including poor response time, breakdowns in receiving information and lack of electronic data sharing capabilities that leave them feeling like their patients have entered a black hole upon transitioning to post-acute care. Home-based care providers able to bridge this communication gap between agency and referral partners will stand out from their unplugged competitors and support better outcomes in the process.

The state of interoperability in post-acute care

According to a 2020 interoperability survey conducted by market intelligence and analysis firm Porter Research and sponsored by MatrixCare, 74% of referring providers are likely to change PAC partners to one that better meets their interoperability standards, up from 60% in 2019.

The report also found that while 95% of PAC providers believe interoperability is important, there are still gaps in both knowledge and capabilities between home-based care providers and their referral partners. With 79% of PAC responders not fully satisfied with their current electronic health record (EHR) system, there is significant room for technology to help home-based care agencies increase their electronic data sharing capabilities and better appeal to referral sources and rapidly forming care networks.

Home-based care providers would be wise to strategically address their interoperability shortcomings before today’s opportunity becomes tomorrow’s necessity. The best way to do this is through conversations with referral partners and EHR vendors to make sure their capabilities align with the former’s expectations.

What are your referral partners looking for?

In a time when emails and text alerts are the norm for social and business interactions, the process to wrangle fax traffic and play multiple rounds of phone tag about a patient will most certainly result in a negative experience for referral partners, especially when their experience with other care settings is much more positive. The ability to share and accept patient data, signed documents, visit notes and medication information with just a few clicks makes physicians’ jobs — and their relationships with PAC providers — that much easier.

An open line of communication with referral partners allows them to follow their patients’ care journey well beyond discharge. Instead of physicians calling for periodic updates and feeling like their patients have disappeared upon entering into post-acute care, imagine if referral sources automatically received the latest updates, allowing them to track their patient’s health and progress. With the right EHR partner, this can be a reality.

It’s important to have conversations with referral sources to understand how acute and ambulatory groups are practicing interoperability in a patient-centric manner. Once agencies tap into that and can match suit, they can effectively position their organization as the partner of choice.

How to evaluate your EHR’s interoperability standards

Many home-based care providers have the ability to receive patient data electronically via their EHR, but there are important nuances to understand. Does the data come in a machine-readable format that their EHR can understand and automatically populate into a patient’s record? If not, their staff will still have to scan documents to find the patient information they need and manually enter information into the EHR, leading to inconsistencies, inaccuracies and a poor user experience for their team.

In the 2020 interoperability report, despite 85% of home-based care providers saying they can accept some variety of clinical or demographic information from referral sources, 79% said they are dissatisfied with their EHRs’ capabilities — and this points to a gap in how their systems currently support true interoperability.

After evaluating the needs and expectations of referral partners, home-based care organizations can bring those to their EHR vendor to see if its capabilities match up. The right technology partner should have scalable, high-performing infrastructure in place that organizations can turn on to start using now. PAC providers need to ask their vendor how it can scale its existing solutions to meet their needs, how quickly they can participate in interoperability at a high-performing level and just as important, how much it will cost. Interoperability goes far beyond technology specifications so it’s key to engage with an EHR vendor that allows businesses to tap into the powerful networks and frameworks already in place, like DirectTrust, CommonWell Health Alliance and Carequality, which turn technology specifications into powerful tools for connected care.

If the existing technology partner doesn’t offer a clear path to meeting these needs, it may be time to explore alternative solutions. As an industry, home-based care agencies need to start embracing true, patient-centric interoperability. Not only will it positively impact referral relationships and earn organizations representation within rapidly forming care networks, it will empower their clinicians and help them more easily accomplish tasks in support of high-quality patient care.

Nick Knowlton is the vice president of strategic initiatives at ResMed, where he works closely with MatrixCare’s home- and facility-based care platforms on interoperability and partnership strategy. Knowlton is also chair of the board of directors for CommonWell Health Alliance and has been involved since helping form the alliance in 2013. He has championed dozens of health information exchange projects across acute, ambulatory and post-acute settings; has helped encourage an industry culture that emphasizes patient-centric interoperability; and regularly provides feedback to the relevant federal agencies on policy issues that affect providers and patients across the care continuum.

This article originally appeared on McKnight's Senior Living