Healthcare interoperability is the ability for disparate healthcare IT systems, applications, and devices to seamlessly exchange and use data while maintaining data security and integrity. Jump to resource links -->
While it’s possible to integrate some health IT systems to enable them to share and exchange data, two integrated systems may not use the same language. In other words, while a receiving system can access data from the sending system, it can’t necessarily interpret it or use it. Integration requires a middle layer, typically a custom interface, to translate the data to allow one system to interpret the data received from another.
Healthcare interoperability allows data to flow freely between disparate health IT systems and enables the software to work in sync. With healthcare interoperability, two software systems can not only exchange data, but understand and use data sent from other systems – with no middleman or interpreter (custom interface) required.
True interoperability is vendor-agnostic, meaning that regardless of the vendor that developed a software solution, it can exchange data and communicate effectively with systems developed by other vendors. It makes it possible to provision any system into an existing environment and begin exchanging data with the existing systems with little effort.
Healthcare interoperability allows healthcare organizations and providers to select the right mix of tools and solutions to meet their needs, without integration capability restrictions. It also reduces inefficiencies, such as duplicate data entry, and streamlines administrative workflows to cut costs.
By making more comprehensive patient data readily accessible to clinicians from multiple providers and systems, healthcare interoperability can also improve clinical decision-making for better quality care and improved patient outcomes. The availability of data from multiple providers also reduces the duplication of services, such as imaging or laboratory testing that’s already been conducted by another provider, which reduces healthcare costs for patients, as well.
Achieving healthcare interoperability requires the use of a consistent, universal standard, which ensures that health IT systems all speak the same language. The Interoperability Standards Advisory (ISA) is a model used by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to identify and assess recognized interoperability standards for the industry.
There are more than 40 standards developing organizations (SDOs) accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that develop and maintain healthcare industry standards. Current standards are grouped in five main categories, including:
There are several widely recognized standards in the healthcare industry, such as HL7 standards, FHIR, and HIPAA. However, standards are less effective when they lack widespread adoption or when organizations implement a given standard in different ways.
ONC and CMS have released the final rules on interoperability, information blocking, and other activities as part of implementing the 21st Century Cures Act. In part one of our blog series, we analyze what the final rules address and how it affects interoperability in health IT.
Dave Levin, MD