Last Updated | December 14, 2021
Enhanced connections improve communication between people. Since better communication is key to better outcomes, especially in healthcare, organizations are striving to enhance their communication network. In order to enhance connectivity and create a communication network in healthcare, top healthcare IT companies, including the telemedicine software development company, Epic EMR integration solutions provider, and other IT providers are incorporating interoperability within their software solutions. Interoperability helps organizations- such as the best healthcare mobile app development company– connect their data systems and make data flow easily from one system to another.
But, what does interoperability mean?
Interoperability refers to the ability of two or more systems to exchange data, regardless of their vendors. In healthcare, interoperability helps exchange medical information to make it accessible at multiple locations at the same time.
What Is The Role Of Interoperability In Healthcare Practice?
Interoperable healthcare systems are key to reducing errors, decreasing costs, improving patient experience, and giving more accurate health data, which, in turn, help get better clinical outcomes. So, in order to achieve improved clinical results, healthcare organizations must interoperate their systems to enable them to work in connection to multiple healthcare devices and applications.
With interoperability, systems seamlessly receive data and share it with other devices and systems. When data is shared electronically, human errors that occur during manual transmission are likely to decrease. The major role of interoperability in healthcare is to make the exchange of usable data easy and efficient between different information systems.
By connecting various healthcare systems, interoperability ensures healthcare providers can access essential health data anytime, and anywhere they want. As a result, providers can go through historical data of patients to better understand the patient case and make data-driven decisions that are key to optimal outcomes.
What Are The Levels Of Interoperability In Healthcare?
Interoperability enables data exchange at different levels, so let’s learn what these levels are:
- Foundational Interoperability
The foundational level of interoperability (also called simple transport) is simply the ability of one system to exchange information with another. It is a basic data exchange level that does not involve alteration or interpretation of data. In other words, at the foundational level, the systems should only have the capability to exchange data among them, which is the basic functionality of interoperable systems.
- Structural Interoperability
Structural interoperability is the intermediate level of the two others. It is the ability of a system to exchange the data in a standardized format that any other system or device can interpret.
At a structural level of interoperability, the system that receives the data must be able to interpret the source format. For example of HL7 integration standards that provide structural interoperability to exchange data in standard formats. These formats are easy to interpret for any recipient system.
- Semantic Interoperability
The highest level of data exchange is semantic interoperability. It is a system’s ability to exchange data with other systems, having distinct data structures. At the semantic level of interoperability, the recipient systems have the capability to receive data, interpret it, and make meaningful use of it.
For example, a medical imaging software company develops systems that exchange data through interoperability at the semantic level.
Since these systems store images in DICOM and non-DICOM imaging formats, which are only shareable with similar systems, semantic interoperability helps them share the same images with other systems too. Simply put, this level of interoperability enables one system to transfer and interpret the images to a new system by changing them into the standard formats that the recipient system accepts.
How Does Interoperability Help In Organizational Growth?
Interoperability connects different electronic data systems of an organization and reduces the use of paper-based health records. It makes EHRs available for organizations anytime they need, allowing them to access a patient’s care history.
When organizations achieve interoperability and exchange information efficiently, they equip their practitioners with the framework for delivering value-driven care which is highly focused on patients’ conditions. In this way, they improve patient experience and provide better diagnosis.
Furthermore, with interoperability, organizations save the time that long conversations between healthcare providers can take while sharing the data manually. When interoperability makes data sharing efficient, the providers have enough time. So, they can better focus on growing organization by treating more patients in less time.
How To Achieve Interoperability In Healthcare, Step By Step?
Achieving interoperability in healthcare is not an easy task. It involves many critical steps to interoperate various data management systems and let data flow seamlessly. So, let’s map out the steps to achieve interoperability in healthcare:
Though many hospitals are engaging in the process to achieve interoperability, the concept of interoperability is still new to the industry.
The fundamental and critical step is to make sure everyone in an organization understands what it is to have an interoperable system. So, the organization must educate its staff members on what interoperability is and how they aim to achieve it.
Follow Industry Standards
When organizations follow the standards, they ensure compliance with data exchange laws, such as HIPAA, which otherwise impose penalties on the organizations for compromising the data security measures. So, another crucial step towards interoperability is to follow core industry-wide standards that direct how interoperability can enable sharing data among a network of systems in a secure manner.
Define The Data To Be Exchanged
Before exchanging data, participants must know what data they will exchange and how recipient systems will use it. Since different departments of an organization require different types of data, organizations must define what kind of data they have and where they have to transmit it.
Defining data will help them establish appropriate standards and understand what they can do to make meaningful use of data.
Make Meaningful Use of Data
Making meaningful use of data is directly linked to interoperability- as it is the ability to exchange data between systems that can utilize it. So, a medical facility or hospital needs to make sure that it meets the requirements of meaningful data usage. This sort of data usage can be ensured when the facility sends medical data to the right place where it can be utilized. For example, clinicians must transmit prescription orders to pharmacies where the prescribed drugs are found.
Ensure Security Of Data
When organizations with interoperable systems do not ensure the security of data, their systems fall apart and enter the HIPAA law violation category. So, after understanding how to make meaningful use of data, the next step to interoperability is to achieve data security. When information is being exchanged between systems, its transmission must be secure and all participant organizations must know what security measures there are.
To achieve this security, organizations must connect to HIPAA compliance service providers to understand and implement HIPAA compliance requirements of data security.
Test The System
Once a data security check is done, the systems can interoperate. The next step is to test the systems. Testing interoperability of systems is of different types. The first thing to test is to ensure the system has fully implemented integration profiles (a set of information exchange protocols) to keep data secure.
Next, providers should test the system as part of the configuration of an organization, i.e. they must keep the systems connected within an organization. Besides considering these steps, organizations that aim to develop interoperable systems must work with healthcare compliance consulting firms.
Using healthcare compliance management software, the consulting firms can help healthcare organizations address the top 5 challenges in managing healthcare projects that include data backups and security and heavy regulatory requirements. Once organizations are able to address these challenges, they are more likely to achieve interoperability in their systems.
Why Is Interoperability So Difficult In Healthcare?
Achieving interoperability for complex health data is one of the biggest challenges in itself. Besides ensuring compliance with the 3 major things addressed in the HIPAA law, what makes interoperability difficult in healthcare is the presence of hundreds of certified EHRs across the healthcare industry, each working with distinct clinical terminology, functional capability, and technical specification.
Each one is built with different medical UX designs and differs so widely that creating one interoperability format for data exchange between all of them is onerous.
Apart from being a technical difficulty, interoperability is perhaps a cultural challenge too. Many hospitals often do not share complete information and only send fragments of data across different regional systems. Therefore, healthcare professionals from different regions report that they face information blockage issues. The issues might be caused by the deliberate blockage of information or the development of EHR systems with limited capabilities.
Whatever the cause behind the sharing of limited data may be, one thing is certain. As long as there are cultural barriers and organizations do not collaborate across the technologies and genuinely coordinate to enhance medical care delivery, interoperability is hard to achieve.
What Is The Future Of Interoperability In Healthcare?
Over the last two decades, interoperability has seen breakthrough evolution. It has been helping healthcare facilities to exchange data across the world. In the future, it can bring more standardization around health data transmission and its consumption by any healthcare facility around the globe.
With better interoperability across systems of different organizations, data will no longer remain confined to the system of one provider organization. The advancement of interoperability will enable a smooth connection between systems and let a provider tap into any patients’ data stored in any system.
It will also allow patients to move freely within the broader healthcare network and get their cases handled by different healthcare specialists without carrying their records everywhere. Interoperability can also reshape the future of EHRs, including the best EHR for solo practices by connecting them to other systems to constantly exchange and update data.
By incorporating AI with interoperability, EHR data will be automatically interpreted and converted into a usable format. This will save the time that providers sometimes spend on manual data interpretation and let them spend it more on patients.
Moreover, by adopting standards of application programming interface (API), EHRs will also achieve interoperability with applications and other connected devices. It will help shift care delivery from hospitals and clinics to patients’ premises where EHRs will constantly be tracking patient data. Meanwhile, when patients have any health-related issue, the EHRs through data integration solutions for healthcare will alert their care team.
In this way, interoperability will help healthcare facilities only focus on severe cases and prioritize patients with the need for instant care.
What Are Healthcare Interoperability Solutions?
Healthcare is full of interoperability solutions, but here are some of the key players offering the best healthcare interoperability solutions:
The majority of providers use Epic interoperability solutions to share 100 million records every month with each other as well as other providers operating a different system.
Epic’s interoperability solutions enable organizations to access Epic EHR, even if they are not using the Epic system.
Listed below are a few interoperability solutions that Epic System offers:
The providers using any other EHR can join the Carequality network of Epic. Carequality enables connectivity among EHRs around the United States. It helps medical practitioners exchange patient data across multiple EHRs from different regions.
- EpicCare Link
Through the EpicCare Link, providers can access any patient’s records. It works by sharing a link with users operating other systems. EpicCare Link allows non-users to access and review a patient’s chart, place orders, schedule appointments, and more via a shareable link.
Data can flow freely with Cerner Interoperability solutions that use standards and network connections to give practitioners access to relevant health information from multiple EHRs. Cerner empowers clinicians to make better decisions and develop accurate care plans by providing complete data of patients.
It gives organizations access to required information from various sources such as provider and consumer health apps, CommonWell Health Alliance®, Health information exchanges (HIEs), prescription drug monitoring programs, and state registries.
IBM Watson Health provides a comprehensive set of capabilities and services to support the endeavors of healthcare organizations to achieve interoperability. It helps them follow interoperability regulations and meet user consent and expectations for privacy. IBM offers healthcare interoperability solutions for organizations to address strategy development, data curation and management, management API access, support, implementation, and consent management.
By enhancing healthcare interoperability, IBM helps organizations comply with the requirements of laws, enhance coordination among their practitioners, compete in the market, and achieve digital transformation within the organization.
Allscripts is committed to effectively interoperating systems in healthcare. The company is the leader in interoperability and provides open platforms to facilitate the accessibility of clinically relevant data at the point of care to clinicians.
Allscripts creates a community for patient records and interoperates systems to enable optimal care delivery.
For many years, Allscripts dbMotion solution has been delivering medically relevant and meaningful information. dbMotion enables interoperability across EHR systems. Furthermore, by interoperating systems, dbMotion helps clinicians engage more with their team and share real-time information across the care continuum.
Cerner’s interoperability solution, dbMotion, is used in many states, including Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Israel interoperates their systems and helps them achieve enhanced medical outcomes.
How to achieve interoperability in healthcare quality improvement?
Healthcare practices can achieve interoperability by adopting and optimizing electronic health records and health information exchange services. Interoperability connects systems and makes EHRs available anywhere anytime. So, clinicians save the time of juggling between systems to access the data at the right time and focus more on patients and improve the quality of health care delivery.
How to achieve interoperability in healthcare risk management?
When systems are not interoperable, they are at risk as they lack stability, privacy, and security. This means the data inside them is not secure. To manage risk and secure data, achieving interoperability is crucial for organizations. In healthcare risk management, interoperability can be achieved by establishing unified systems for the exchange of information and following standards to keep data secure at the same time.
Epic system is an EHR software. Being one of the most popular healthcare information technology solutions, the Epic EHR system is used by various organizations across the healthcare industry. Organizations use Epic to access, organize, and store patient records. Epic System also provides interoperability solutions in healthcare to enable the exchange of patient information among different connected systems.
The price for a health record and HIPAA compliance for software development varies from one provider to another. However, their possible purchase and installation costs range from $15,000 to $70,000/ provider. The cost of telemedicine software and the need to hire an EHR integration engineer to access health records are some additional costs that need to be considered for getting HIPAA-compliant health records.
Data from EHRs is important for clinicians to get a complete picture of a patient’s history of treatments that they have received in their lifetime. Interoperability makes access to EHR data easy and quick for clinicians to better understand patient cases and develop personalized treatment plans for them. When treatments are data-driven and personalized for specific patients, they help deliver optimal care and generate better outcomes.