by adgrooms on July 5, 2019

It's that time of year - the summer road trip. Millions of Americans get in their cars, pack the kids, and drive to faraway vacation destinations. But did they bring enough money? What if they run out and need more? This might have been a valid concern in the '60s, but with the interoperability of the banking system, most of us no longer carry physical currency at all.

What happens if the traveler gets sick or injured on that vacation? In an emergency, the patient's record could be valuable information, and it is all thoroughly captured in the patient's home EHR. But the record can only be accessed by contacting their primary care provider, assuming they have one, and more often than not, waiting for it to arrive by fax. How much time will this take? How will this affect the outcome for the patient? The modern conveniences of bank interoperability have yet to be seen in healthcare.

Prior to the 1960s, to access funds, you had to go to the physical bank where you had an account. Limited credit purchasing began in the 1950s with Diners Club and a network of New York restaurants. The interoperability breakthrough came in 1966 when a group of banks formed the Interbank Card Association which began the open-loop interoperability between banks that now allows you to access your funds almost anywhere. The government added regulations to ensure the security of funds and information and the transparency of fees and billing. Since then, banks have operated openly with each other to the benefit of consumers and themselves.

Once the Interbank Card Association showed what was possible, market forces took over. The larger banks were first to come together and offer credit cards, but as time went on, small community banks began to offer their own cards to stay competitive. A system was developed where merchants could accept payment in the form of digital currency, and ATM machines made it possible for customers to access money any day, at any time.

Consumers, merchants, and banks all benefit from the greater connectivity. Although the new system gave bank members increased mobility and a greater choice, the banks retained their clients by focusing on customer service and fostering relationships. The increased convenience even drew new people into the banking system. An unexpected benefit was that small businesses could easily accept payments from anywhere. This created new customers for banks and contributed to the health of the economy.

How could this level of access benefit healthcare? What are the challenges for health systems? What technical obstacles are there? What organizational concerns need to be addressed?