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A recent Chilmark blog post on national healthcare interoperability mentioned two approaches to healthcare interoperability: element-centric interoperability and document-centric exchange.

As I think back on the thousands of discussions I’ve had on interoperability, these two phrases do a great job describing the different approaches to interoperability. Unfortunately, what I’ve seen is that many people get these two approaches to interoperability mixed up. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that meaningful use’s CDA requirement is an attempt to mix these two concepts into one. It’s one part element data and one part document.

Personally, I think we should be attacking one approach or the other. Trying to mix the two causes issues and confusion for those involved. The biggest problem with mixing the two is managing people’s perception. Once doctors get a small slice of cake, they want the rest of it too. So, it’s very unsatisfying to only get part of it.

Document-Centric Exchange
The argument for document-centric exchange of healthcare data is a good one. There are many parts of the patient record that can’t really be slimmed down into a nice element-centric format. Plus, there’s a wide variation in how and what various doctors document. So, the document format provides the ultimate in flexibility when it comes to outputting and sharing this data with another provider.

Those who are against document-centric exchange highlight that this is really just a modernization of the fax machine. If all we’re doing is exchanging documents, then that’s basically replicating what we’ve been doing for years with the fax machine. Plus, they highlight the fact that you can’t incorporate any of the granular data elements from the documents into the chart for any sort of clinical decision support. It might say your allergies on the document, but the EHR won’t know about those allergies if it’s stored on a document you received from another system.

While certainly not ideal, document-centric exchange can still be a nice improvement over the fax machine. In the fax world, there was still a lot of people required to get the documents faxed over to another provider. In the document-centric exchange world this could happen in real time with little to no interaction from the provider or their staff. The fact that this is possible is exciting and worrisome to many people. However, it would facilitate getting the right information (even if in document form) to the right people at the right time.

Element-Centric Exchange
We all know that the nirvana of health information exchange is element-centric exchange. In this exchange, your entire health record is available along with a series of meta data which tells the receiving system what each data element represents. This solves the allergy problem mentioned above since in an element-centric exchange the allergy would be stored in a specific field which notes it as an allergy and the receiving system could process that element and …read more



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