Interoperability in Healthcare

Interoperability in healthcare means making sure information technology systems and software solutions work together seamlessly to exchange, interpret, and use data. Interoperability ensures that health data collected in one system can be made available for use in another, which can be achieved through the adoption of standards and use of data exchange models.

When there is interoperability in healthcare, data can be shared internally with all people who need access to healthcare information and also externally with other healthcare providers and authorized third parties, irrespective of the systems or software they use.

Unfortunately, many software solutions are developed in silos which makes it difficult for data to easily be transferred to other solutions and systems. When data exchange is possible, it often involves come manual processes, data transfer is slow, and communications are often disjointed.

Interoperability in healthcare should see healthcare information systems working seamlessly together, within and across organizational boundaries. It should be possible for hospital labs to instantly share test results with clinicians, for hospitals to send data to pharmacy systems, and for patient information to be easily shared with all members of the care team, irrespective of operating system, software, or the devices they use to access information.

Benefits of Interoperability in Healthcare

With fully interoperable systems, healthcare information can flow unimpeded and can be exchanged with anyone authorized to receive the information without delay. When information flows quickly between systems, up-to-date information is always available, and clinicians can view a current snapshot of a patient’s data which to inform treatment decisions and patient care.

Interoperability is important within a healthcare facility, but also between healthcare providers. Patients often receive medical services from several providers, such as doctor’s surgery, clinic, and hospital. If accurate and up to date healthcare data is not available to all those providers, patient safety is put at risk, test have to be repeated, and the cost to the patient increases.

With data flowing freely internally and externally, patients will be able to receive more timely care, fewer medical errors will be made, patient outcomes will improve, patient satisfaction will increase, and efficient data transfer will help to reduce the cost of healthcare provision.

True Interoperability in Healthcare is About More Than Information Systems

EHR interoperability is important for ensuing healthcare data can be exchanged between different healthcare providers and other healthcare IT systems, but true interoperability in healthcare goes far beyond healthIT. It requires a combination of people and processes, communication systems, as well as EHRs and IT systems. All must work together coherently and consistently, with speed and accuracy, to maintain a high quality of care for patients. When all these facets work together it is possible to make smarter, better informed, patient-centered decisions which will result in marked improvements in clinical outcomes.

Challenges Achieving Healthcare Interoperability

While the benefits of interoperability in healthcare are clear, achieving interoperability can be a major challenge due to the use of an extensive range of vendors, complex processes, and having to adhere to stringent regulatory standards. There are often many barriers to interoperability that must be overcome.

Information blocking has long been a problem in healthcare, despite efforts to prevent it. There have been many cases of EHR vendors hampering information flow or charging to transfer health data outside their system. Progress is being made to address the issue. Following the passing of the 21st Century Cures Act, new rules covering information blocking have been introduced by the ONC and CMS which will help to address cases of information blocking to ensure efficient health data exchange. Later in 2020, financial penalties will start to be imposed when information blocking is discovered.

Another barrier to interoperability in healthcare is the difficulty identifying patients in systems. There is no national patient identifier, so patients must be identified by name, date of birth, Social Security number or internal patient ID numbers. These data fields are often stored differently in systems, which can make patient identification difficult. Identification errors are a very real possibility. While HIPAA called for the creation of a national patient identifier, that requirement has since been overruled by Congress over patient privacy concerns.

While steps have been made to develop and adopt standards for the exchange of healthcare data there is no single standard for health data exchange. Proprietary data formats are a major issue, but even mismatched fonts can make it difficult for data exchange, requiring manual processes to convert data into the correct format before information can be loaded into another system. Until these barriers are overcome, true interoperability in healthcare will remain an elusive goal.

Clinical Communication and Collaboration Platforms Offer a Solution

Getting the myriad of information systems used by a hospital to transfer health data seamlessly may be the ultimate goal, but it is an extremely complex and long-winded process. For more rapid progress and to ensure clinicians have the information they need, about the correct patient, in the right format, at the right time, other solutions are available.

Clinical Communication and Collaboration (CC&C) platforms offer a solution. These platforms gather information from multiple systems and provide that information to clinicians in an easily accessible format to inform diagnosis and treatment decisions and help deliver higher quality care to patients. These solutions fit into existing clinical workflows and ensure all members of the care team are given easy access to the same information about a patient. The platforms also make it easy to accurately and efficiently share important patient data with other clinicians at patient handoffs.

These platforms incorporate secure, HIPAA-compliant communication technology that supports text messaging, voice and video calls, and the sharing of files and medical images to promote close collaboration and ensure fast, efficient and effective communication and allow healthcare providers to finally replace pagers and landlines and bring healthcare communication into the 21st century.