The Integration Dance

Integration is a tricky business. Even the best in the business admit (privately) that their solutions are less than ideal. Yet, as this month’s cover story reminds us, integration and interoperability have become business essentials. Facilities that can’t connect disparate IT systems internally and externally are likely to lose profits, patients and physicians. Facilities that do make meaningful, seamless and rich connections, on the other hand, will thrive by meeting the needs of patients and providers.

IT is the core of integration; however, IT alone is not enough to ensure a successful integration. If healthcare organizations emphasize IT without attending to other critical components in the process, they risk failure.

Those other, often-overlooked ingredients fall under the soft skills realm and include factors like communication, politics and education.

Time and time again, leaders in the field tout these soft skills; the assumption is health providers have, or can acquire, the IT know-how. Many also have political savvy and communication smarts, but they forget their role in the big picture. Doing so might compromise the process and make for less than meaningful ultimate results.

Excellent communication is a prerequisite to integration. Internal and external stakeholders and vendors need to understand the importance of integration: why it matters, what it means for the business, for patient care and for workflow.

Like good communication, education is multi-directional. For example, RadNet, a Los Angeles-based outpatient imaging network, is a leader in the health IT integration world because it emphasizes both education and IT know-how. It’s a business model worth replicating.

The RadNet IT team makes it a point to commit upfront time in the interface development process to physician education. Often clinicians may not understand the various capabilities of interfaces. Different approaches lead to different end results. Providers may assume HL7 offers the only approach to an interface, but other mechanisms may produce the right results for the practice.

Because the RadNet team takes the time to educate their business partners, their end results are good products that meet physicians’ needs and often exceed their initial expectations.

Integration can fall prey to politics in several ways. Although vendor reluctance has eased in the last year or two, interface development is not a top priority for many vendors. It’s important to employ a smart, strategic approach, pointing out the benefits to both sides and making the process as streamlined as possible.

Similarly, external partners may fear the unknown and may be less than willing to embrace the concept of open, integrated IT. As the leaders in this month’s cover story demonstrate—work with what you have, go slow and build success stories—and don’t hesitate to broadcast them.

And broadcast them with Health Imaging & IT. We’d love to hear from you.