Interfacing and Interoperability: not an EHR selling point

It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true: interoperability should no longer be a major selling point when looking for an EHR.  Why?  Because every good EHR should be fully interoperable.  And soon, every EHR will have to be interoperable.

Interoperability is one of the most exciting areas of health IT: it holds incredible potential to change the practice of medicine, and can dramatically increase the quality of treatment patients receive.  As we all know, the federal government has provided increasing support for interoperability initiatives in recent years.

Many of the major EHRs attempt to impress physicians with their size, then boast that their systems can “talk to,” or are compatible with, a range of billing software, other hospitals, and other EHRs.  Uninformed EHR buyers are overly impressed, and move to purchase one of these systems.  It’s true that interoperability is a crucial part of any EHR: so crucial, in fact, that you should never purchase an EHR that is not fully interoperable. For that very reason, though, interoperability is not a special benefit or selling point.

The federal government has stepped in and mandated interoperability.  When these requirements are fully implemented, any certified EHR  will be able to exchange information with any hospital, laboratory, medical equipment, or billing software, as well as with any other EHR.  Software that can not achieve full interoperability is simply not certified.

In other words, don’t let the issues of size and compatibility distract you in the EHR search: purchase your favorite EMR, large or small, as long as it is ONC-certified.  All EHRs and health centers will be required to interface with yours.

Never let any EHR company sell you interoperability as a special or unique feature.  It’s time to go beyond interoperability and talk about what really differentiates today’s EHRs: usability.


Choosing the Right EHR is a blog series about the many factors to consider when purchasing an EHR.  It offers important perspectives for doctors looking to purchase their first EHR, as well as those who are switching to a new system.