What is Interoperability for Healthcare?
2017 was the year of Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) and many would say that it’s not over. Healthcare industry pundits predict we will continue to experience mass consolidation as organizations seek competitive advantage. M&A topped the news charts, however, as all the M&A activity was occurring there was another hot topic brewing.
As many healthcare organizations seeking to improve patient safety they underwent modernization of their traditional paper-based approaches such as policy and procedure management, electronic medical records, learning management, clinical and patient engagement, contracts management, third-party vendor assessment and credentialing to name a few, all in a quest to accelerate patient care and safety. However, now they are realizing that they need to take greater measures to maximize operational efficiencies, lower costs and gain competitive differentiation. To successfully achieve these objectives and others, the modern computerized systems need to be able to exchange information with one another. The exchanging of information among proprietary systems from different vendors is referred to as interoperability.
Interoperability refers to the ability of computer systems or software to connect, communicate, exchange and make use of information with one another readily, even if they were developed by different manufacturers or vendors. Being able to exchange information between applications, databases, and other computer systems is crucial in healthcare environments with many disparate systems.
So you may be asking yourself “how can my organization achieve interoperability given the vast number of systems implemented within our environment from different vendors or manufacturers?” Although it is not as easy as clicking a button, interoperability is relatively easy to achieve as long as the solutions you have implemented have Open APIs. Leveraging Open APIs (often referred to as a public API) will enable the systems to seamlessly connect and communicate with one another. A public or Open API is an application programming interface that provides developers or IT professionals with programmatic access to a proprietary software application.
According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), “Interoperability describes the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data. For two systems to be interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data such that it can be understood by a user.”
HIMSS defined three levels of health information technology interoperability in 2013:
Foundational interoperability allows one information system to exchange data with another information system. The system receiving the information is not required to interpret the data. It will be instantly available for use.
At an intermediate level, structural interoperability defines the format and structure of the data exchange. This has to do with the standards that govern the format of messages being sent from one system to another so that the operational or clinical purpose of the information is evident and passes through without alteration. This refers to the information at the data field level such as patient records.
Semantic interoperability is the highest level of connection. Two or more different systems or parts of systems can exchange and use the information being shared immediately. This level of interoperability supports the electronic exchange of patient summary information among caregivers and other authorized parties via potentially disparate electronic health record (EHR) systems and other systems to improve quality, safety, and efficiency of healthcare delivery.
Why Is Interoperability in Healthcare Important?
It’s useful to think of interoperability as a philosophy instead of just a “standards-based interaction between computer systems,” noted a report from the Electronic Health Reporter quoting Information Advantage Group’s CEO Jim Bloedau.
Increased patient safety and quality is a result of interoperability since more time can be spent on patient care rather than spending vast amounts of time searching for information among disparate systems.
Interoperability in clinical situations can mean easier access to details in patients’ electronic health records, while at the same time reviewing policies and procedures relevant to treating the patient. Being able to have all pertinent information easily available at your fingertips can reduce medical errors, improve patient treatment times and quality.
Interoperability in healthcare is designed to enhance operational efficiencies including staff productivity and reducing staff burn out and churn. When data is presented on a consistent basis no matter what the source, it’s easier for clinical staff and practitioners to quickly define treatment at the point of patient care.
Safer Transitions of Care
Continuity of care is very important to patients, whether for chronic conditions or taking care of an acute situation with multiple health care providers. Interoperability enables safer transitions of care, resulting in better patient quality.
A recent article in Medical Economics highlighted a case where a heart patient from out of town was in the emergency room. He was only able to describe what he had undergone “some procedure” without any useful details. The doctor would have been able to treat him faster and more comprehensively if data from the patient’s electronic health record at his home state of North Carolina was accessible by the treating physician in New York.
Can Reduce Costs
Interoperability means that more useful information can be shared in a timely manner reducing the costs associated with paper-based or archaic systems, unneeded tests. Greater information sharing saves time and effort, resulting in lower costs.
- Interoperability has to do with the way proprietary software, database, and computer systems connect, communicate and share information with one another.
- Healthcare interoperability makes it easier for healthcare providers to share patient data with one another resulting in better patient engagement and quality of care.
- Interoperability in healthcare provides greater operational efficiencies, increased staff productivity, improved knowledge sharing and lower costs
- Patient safety and the protection of confidential patient records is a critical part of interoperability standards.
- 2017: The year interoperability innovation grew legs in the private sector
- Seema Verma Promises CMS is Focusing on Interoperability and Patient Empowerment
- ONC Plans to Release Rule To Tackle Information Blocking in 2018
To learn more about how interoperability can help healthcare organizations gain productivity download the white paper “How to Gain Productivity in Healthcare”