Interoperability – or rather a lack of interoperability – remains a dilemma for many healthcare organizations.
This can be an issue as their mission is to enable quality patient care, by providing clinicians with timely access to data which helps to improve the decision-making process and empower fully-informed actions.
But…What is Interoperability?
I think there are (at least) 2 aspects to interoperability – the technical and the social.
- Technical interoperability, which has been described by HIMSS as the ability of different IT systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged.
- Social interoperability, which refers to the willingness of participants to share data they have collected – and to the formation of a cross sector community to facilitate that.
Technical interoperability should actually be quite straightforward to solve. While many of the legacy applications within healthcare organizations have their own unique way of representing information, emerging standards like FHIR and the use of terminology standards like SNOMED CT offer a way forward for data sharing that many vendors and organizations have enthusiastically taken up.
By making high quality coded data available through secure, real-time APIs as well as by documents and messaging paradigms, we are able to share information in a way that the recipient can understand what we are saying – so-called Semantic Interoperability.
And we can protect access to those APIs using an API manager to ensure that only those who have a right to access the data can do so.
FHIR and associated standards can help to establish a digital health ecosystem of medical information – enabling patient data to be made available when and where it is needed.
Social interoperability is harder. A great deal of how we organize healthcare is predicated on the ‘ownership’ of information and controlling its distribution.
Changing this model has very wide impacts on the “business” of healthcare, and this sort of change is never simple.
Encouragingly, in the past few years, we’ve seen a global community of users from all parts of the healthcare sector coming together to help improve interoperability for healthcare organizations, great examples are the FHIR chat or FHIR Connectathons.