We recently sat down with Interop Hero, Amy Shellhart, Chief Solutions Officer at WellSky®. We talked about the role interoperability has in administrating post-acute care and how it can benefit patients who come out of a post-acute care setting, as well as some of the challenges Amy has seen.

WellSky is the largest acute, post-acute, and community care technology provider that connects caregivers across the industry. They provide software solutions, analytics and services that serve both the community and healthcare organization to improve patient outcomes, as well as the cost and quality of care. Through Amy’s nomination, we learned WellSky now has EHRs that represent every care setting in the post-acute environment.

Having been a technologist for more than a decade, Amy admits her passion is on the provider side. She started in healthcare in college as a Certified Nurse Assistant doing bed side care. This experience made her want to go into the healthcare industry full-time. Amy shifted her focus more on the business side because she saw things she wanted to improve.

Her most impactful experience was becoming the director of a diabetes center and working with clinicians, patients and families for 10 years. Around this time, she started seeing more adoption of electronic medical records. Much of what drove her career was her own personal frustration with the use of medical records and how they impacted care. She understood how crucial those records are to creating an effective care plan and providing quality care to patients. In 2010, she made the shift from being on the provider side to going to the technology side where she started giving her feedback based on that personal experience and perspective she had gained. After presenting her analysis, Amy was asked to lead the company’s product design for their next generation of technology solutions.

At WellSky, their approach to interoperability is anything but singular. Each application has its own strategic purpose and problem to solve.

“We believe that interoperability is multi-faceted…It’s not a single arrow, it’s a quiver of arrows and you have to figure out what you’re trying to help providers and others accomplish.”

For example, one of those arrows is their partnership with CommonWell Health Alliance. WellSky felt it was their responsibility to connect providers to that network. They saw an opportunity to not only contribute to the network, but help their clients get better access to health data — and that’s exactly what they did.

Many clients that WellSky represents in post-acute care are providers who help patients finish that last leg of their care journey (home health, hospice, rehab, etc.). These providers are responsible for their patients’ final recovery, which can have an impact on quality of life, future cost of care and readmissions. Needless to say, it’s an important step in someone’s journey that’s unfortunately often overlooked.

WellSky’s goal in partnering with CommonWell Health Alliance was to improve the visibility post-acute providers have in getting access to data so they can get the full picture of their patient before they arrive. Knowing what happened during a patient’s hospital stay informs their final care plan and road to recovery.

We pivot the conversation to discuss some of the challenges Amy still experiences in the acute-care world. We learn the post-acute care setting hasn’t seen the same level of resources as other areas of healthcare, like hospitalizations. This means systems and solutions were built to address jobs within those other areas of care, while jobs in post-acute care still needed to be solved. As a result, niche solutions popped up to solve for the post-acute areas in which those allocated dollars and resources did not help support. The challenge here is putting those niche systems into context for larger enterprises and to solve some of the bigger problems they weren’t necessarily built for.

Amy goes on the explain that the challenge with the niche systems we just discussed creates another obstacle — and that’s liberating the data that exists in all these niche solutions. She credits regulation for having catapulted these efforts, as well as the willingness of other health IT organizations to come together and help with data curation. While data liberation remains a challenge, Amy says it’s also a huge opportunity to have all kinds of chances to do lots of things with this data.

A third challenge Amy mentions is a mind shift of moving away from the concept of point-to-point interfaces and instead using other methods of exchanging information, like Direct Secure Messaging. With this mind shift, Amy believes people need to focus on growing their networks, instead of finding a point-to-point connection.

That last challenge around shifting mindsets lends a nice transition into learning what Amy’s ideal state of interoperability looks like. For Amy, an ideal state is having enough tools for people to self-advocate and bring their information together for the people in their life who may act on their behalf (like a loved one or other care giver). There’s a balance of not stripping ownership of data, but having the ability to give approval for care givers to act on a patient’s behalf. This would eliminate the constant need to go back and get patient approval to share information each time it was needed. Finding ways to secure information and give the power to the patient to have a say in how their data is used, while being sensitive around their privacy is what Amy hopes to see in the future. Based on how far we’ve already come in the world of data exchange and the endless possibilities interoperability provides, we believe Amy’s ideal state will become a reality.

As we wrap up our conversation, Amy offers final thoughts and words of wisdom.

“Right now, a lot of providers and others feel like interoperability is such a challenge. And I think we have the chance to look at it as a huge opportunity…We really can change the way care is delivered.”

As challenging as it is for technology vendors to solve these issues around data, Amy encourages a positive mindset and to see gaps or problems as opportunities to change the experience and outcomes patients are having. There’s also the opportunity to potentially impact cost of care in post-acute care settings and avoid readmission. Amy believes interoperability is the answer to solving all these problems and thinking about it as both a big challenge and big opportunity will help drive better interoperability solutions.

Thank you to Amy Shellhart of WellSky for sharing her experience and perspective with us!

Learn more about the Interoperability Hero Initiative and check out our third class of Interoperability Heroes.

This post was contributed by Alyssa Foggia-Hamm.