COVID-19 Boosts Health IT Adoption, Knowledge of Interoperability Rules

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted health IT adoption and enhanced physician understanding of new HHS interoperability rules.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated health IT adoption and physician understanding of new interoperability rules, according to results from a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Google Cloud.

The June 2021 survey gathered responses from 300 physicians.

Almost half (45 percent) of respondents said that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated health IT adoption at their organizations. More specifically, 62 percent of physicians said that the pandemic forced their organization to make health IT advancements that would have normally taken years.

This is a massive shift in physician perception of health IT adoption rates compared to pre-COVID-19. More than half (53 percent) of physicians said that before the pandemic, their healthcare organization’s approach to health IT adoption would best be described as “neutral.”

Physicians reported the growing need for greater interoperability. Nearly 9 in 10 physicians (89 percent) reported that they are increasingly looking for ways to bring together all patient health data into a single place for a more comprehensive understanding of an individual’s health. 

Most respondents (86 percent) said that increased data interoperability will significantly cut back on the time it takes to diagnose patients; 95 percent reported that greater interoperability will ultimately help improve patient outcomes.

In addition to better patient outcomes, 54 percent of respondents reported that increased access to patient health data through health IT adoption has positively impacted their healthcare organization.

More than half (57 percent) of physicians reported that interoperability solutions can help alleviate the likelihood of clinician burnout. What’s more, 84 percent of respondents said that efficient health IT tools can help decrease friction and stress in the workplace.

As a result, 60 percent of physicians said that access to more advanced technology and clinical data systems would provide them with a better work/life balance. Additionally, 61 percent of physicians said that better access to more complete patient data would reduce administrative burdens (61 percent) that contribute to burnout.

The survey results also revealed that physician knowledge of HHS interoperability rules has grown since the onset of COVID-19.

When Google Cloud commissioned the same survey in February 2020, 64 percent of respondents had at least heard of the new HHS interoperability rules unveiled in 2019.

The new survey results reveal that post-COVID-19, 74 percent of physicians have at least heard about the new interoperability rules.

However, deeper knowledge and understanding of the rules is still relatively low. Just 30 percent of physicians reported that they are somewhat or very familiar with the new rules. Still, this is a rise from 2020, when just 18 percent said they were very/somewhat familiar with the federal interoperability regulations.

Among those who had heard of the new rules, nearly half of respondents are in favor (48 percent in 2021; 45 percent in 2020). A similar number of physicians remain unsure (46 percent in 2021; 50 percent in 2020).

The survey revealed that 70 percent of physicians believe that the top potential benefit of the interoperability rules is forcing EHRs to be more interoperable with other systems.

These results come as Google Cloud sets its sights on health data interoperability. The company recently announced a private preview of its Healthcare Data Engine, a health IT solution that builds on the core capabilities of the Google Cloud Healthcare API and streamlines data from disparate sources for enhanced interoperability.

Healthcare Data Engine will provide healthcare stakeholders with real-time access to longitudinal patient health data comprised of medical records, claims, clinical trials, and research data.

The health IT solution builds on the core capabilities of the Google Cloud Healthcare application programming interface (API) to provide stakeholders with clinical insights in FHIR format, the industry standard.

With access to this data, care organizations will be able to leverage advanced analytics and artificial intelligence in a secure, scalable cloud environment to improve real-time decision making, Google Cloud representatives said.

"As we are keenly aware from the pandemic, access to the right information, at the right time, is critical to saving lives," Joe Corkery, MD, Google Cloud director of product management, said in a public statement at the time of the announcement.

"We built Healthcare Data Engine to make it easier for healthcare and life sciences organizations to bring together their data silos to innovate and improve health outcomes,” Corkery continued.

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