Interoperability in Healthcare

Kushal Shakya
Wed 7 Sep 2022
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Technology has always played a critical role in any industry that seeks to surpass the boundaries of innovation. In the mid-1960s, one such technological intervention in healthcare emerged as electronic health records. These records were introduced to store and retrieve medical documents and other relevant clinical information. In 2009, this was further reinforced with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to drive hospitals and physicians’ offices implement the use of electronic health records in their day-to-day operations. 

Over the decades, the switch from paper to electronic health records allowed one concept to advance and grow—interoperability. This blog explores the concept of interoperability and why it is critical in healthcare today and beyond. 

What is interoperability in healthcare?

Interoperability is the ability of different information systems, devices, and applications (systems) to access, exchange, integrate, and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational, regional, and national boundaries to provide timely and seamless portability of information and optimize the health of individuals and populations globally.

According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), four interoperability levels are currently referred to within healthcare organizations.

Let’s see how it really unfolds in healthcare
Joe’s care journey: Powered by interoperability

Meet Joe. He’s a 68-year-old who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Every morning Joe wakes up and takes his vitals on a remote patient monitoring (RPM) device. This morning, his care manager called to remind him to track his medications and fitness goals according to his chronic care management (CCM) protocol. In the afternoon, he has an appointment with his primary care physician.

At his physician’s office, the doctor checks the vitals sent from Joe’s RPM device that morning, his CCM progress, and other details of Joe’s health and history from different electronic health records (EHRs). Based on Joe’s health status and activities, the physician suggests a CT scan to get an updated look at the progression of his COPD.

The front desk sends an electronic referral for his CT scan. Later that day, Joe’s mobile app confirms his appointment, updates him about prescriptions, and provides additional care information. Now Joe has control of his care journey.

Interoperability is at the heart of Joe’s care journey. When healthcare systems can talk to each other and share data seamlessly, providers can truly put patients at the center of high-quality care.

How does interoperability work?

There are three key components to interoperability:

  • Exchange: How does the platform exchange data with external systems? How does it continuously enhance data input and output?
  • Access: Which protocols and standards provide secure access to a data source?
  • Use: How does the platform ensure that all systems recognize and present data in the same way?

Improving every aspect of healthcare with interoperability

The top technology barrier to overcome in healthcare is access to clean, centralized, shareable data to achieve interoperability. Health systems need a cloud-native, interoperable data and analytics platform capable of connecting to virtually any HIT system, including EHRs, and unifying its data to make it useful across care settings. This would then enable:

Improved patient care: Patients often do administrative tasks like searching for documents, filling out multiple forms, re-explaining their symptoms or medical history, and sorting out insurance. Using interoperability to streamline this process can help healthcare facilities give patients faster, more accurate, and coordinated treatment to enhance their overall experience.

Increased patient safety: According to a study, more than 250,000 deaths occur annually in the U.S. due to medical errors making it the third leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease. By planning and implementing advanced interoperability processes, organizations can capture and interpret data across systems and applications, preventing errors resulting from missing or incomplete patient data.

Stronger privacy and security for patients: Interoperability can help enhance patient data privacy and security by requiring organizations to fully assess how their private health information is being used and shared. By analyzing how this information is entered into a secure, interoperable system, organizations can better understand where this data is located and who has access to it, helping them secure patient data and protect privacy.

Reduce healthcare costs: According to an estimate from the West Health Institute (WHI), medical device interoperability could save the U.S. healthcare system more than $30 billion a year. It can also improve care and hospital safety. As a result, interoperability allows organizations to save time with every patient by getting the right data to them, the physicians and caregivers, and the affiliate at the right time, every time.

Interoperability helps remove complexities, not to add to it

The clinical environment is inherently complex, with disparate practices in each setting. This leads to technologies being each developed with their own priorities. Interoperability aims to remove complexity or manual steps on the part of people using the technology. It must be useful information closer to the point where that information is used to deliver care or make decisions.

For more in-depth insights into healthcare technology trends, explore our resources.


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Tags: Healthcare
Kushal Shakya

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