Interoperability in healthcare is a form of care coordination which calls for health IT systems and applications to work together, exchange, share and interpret shared data to improve the accessibility and quality of healthcare. While it is not an entirely new concept, it has been severely underrated.
In recent years however, the explosion of healthcare data has put immense pressure on the delivery, security, quality and efficacy of quality care for people and communities. As people increasingly find themselves immersed in health-related activities and procedures, it is imperative to not only ensure secure and safe exchange of medical and healthcare data but also access the data spread over multiple systems and view it as a single record in a way that can be understood by the user.
Levels of Interoperability
Post 2013, health data standards have been introduced to allow seamless sharing of data across physicians, clinicians, specialists, labs, hospitals, nurses, health coaches, pharmacies, caregivers and patients. Currently there are three levels of interoperability as specified by The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HiMSS):
- “Foundational” interoperability which allows simple data exchange from one system to another without interpreting it.
- “Structural” interoperability which deals with the message format standards, meaning the data can be interpreted at the field level.
- “Semantic” interoperability which not only allows data to be exchanged but also allows that data to be used/interpreted.
Types of Healthcare Data
With more patients accessing healthcare in multiple places every day, it has given rise to fragmented, siloed patient data. Some of the common types of healthcare data include:
- Patient satisfaction survey data
- Clinical data
- Admission, Discharge, Transfer (ADT) data
- Consolidated Clinical Documents
- Claims data
EHR (Electronic Health Record) systems are not enough to tackle this problem of disparate records since the data is stored in multiple systems.
Challenges to Interoperability
The need of the hour is to deliver quality care based on accurate, consistent, secure, reliable and real-time access to data. But, while most hospitals have some form of EHR or Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system in place, only a few make effective use of the information sent, received or accessed through it. Additionally, the healthcare landscape is a complicated tangle of legacy systems, applications, processes and technologies.
All of this greatly affects the dissemination, exchange and access of relevant and accurate data presenting a barrier to interoperability.
Despite the setbacks, given the direction taken by data-driven healthcare, it is evident that interoperability is all set to be the backbone of healthcare in future.
Legacy systems are being increasingly integrated and replaced by open APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces which allows secure, efficient data exchange for informed decision-making.
Simultaneously, the rise of FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standards with its robust, flexible, agile architecture, has made it easier to share data stored across multiple systems, in real-time. A reinvention of Health Level-7 International (HL7 v3 and v2) and Clinical Document Architecture (CCDA), FHIR is redefining value-based, quality healthcare and pushing the world towards 100% interoperability.