How Interoperability in Healthcare Can Improve the Patients’ Care Process
09 September 202009 September 2020 | Software Development
More than 1.3 million health records are electronically requested and exchanged in six months by the staff of a medical and surgical facility in Michigan, Detroit. St. John Providence Hospital started sharing patient information to coordinate care with the help of a healthcare interoperability solution after years of getting information via paper faxing or telephone. The medical staff even had to repeat tests already performed during emergency visits within their health system because they couldn’t access the patient’s medical records.
With a continuously changing industry, due to new technology capabilities, increased health data generated through wearable devices, new policies, and more regulations, health systems need to communicate and allow for seamless transition of patient data between health providers.
The path forward for health systems, in order to maximize value-based care and patient-driven care, is to close the gap between patients, their healthcare data, and medical staff.
Table of Contents
- What is Interoperability in Healthcare?
- Which are the Benefits of Healthcare Interoperability for Patients?
- How Difficult is it to Achieve Interoperability in Healthcare?
- Are Health Organizations Ready for Interoperability?
Interoperability gives patients and physicians better access to critical health information. Electronic health records (EHRs) and other healthcare data management systems can communicate and exchange patient data due to interoperability.
HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) proposed a new definition for interoperability in healthcare to include operational data exchange as part of its original description from 2013.
“It is the ability of different information systems, devices and applications (systems) to access, exchange, integrate and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational, regional and national boundaries, to provide timely and seamless portability of information and optimize the health of individuals and populations globally. Health data exchange architectures, application interfaces and standards enable data to be accessed and shared appropriately and securely across the complete spectrum of care, within all applicable settings and with relevant stakeholders, including the individual.” , as defined by HIMSS.
To summarize, HIMSS now defines four levels of health information technology interoperability: foundational interoperability, structural interoperability, semantic interoperability, and organizational interoperability. With this new tier, data sharing becomes even more comprehensive. For the healthcare ecosystem, this means that the information exchange can extend across borders and expand globally.
Data source: Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society – himss.org
To effectively improve patient care, current health systems must be capable of collecting new data and integrate medical information from traditional EHRs. Many healthcare organizations use EHRs, but they are specific and accessible only from within and have no outside access capabilities.
With the end goal of interoperability insight: improved patient care, the EU and the United States are setting the framework for meaningful digital health interoperability. But what would mean for the patient’s health if care providers could exchange and examine the shared data:
- Coordination of care – With easy access to the complete picture of a patient’s medical history and health data, doctors can make fully informed and accurate decisions. Furthermore, patients can focus on their healing process and forget about administrative tasks like finding old paper records from previous admissions, filling out forms, explaining recurrent symptoms, or searching for old prescriptions. By making electronic health records (EHRs) the central point of a patient’s care process, doctors can give faster, more accurate, and coordinated treatment.
- Value-based care delivery – Healthcare providers can treat patients more efficiently and faster if they have instant and full access to medical records, statistics, insights, and tools. Interoperability can optimize intervention time and also the medical facility’s resources.
- Patient safety – Data exchange benefits patients but also gives physicians the right information not only to treat but also to prevent. Exchanging patient data between different EHR systems and healthcare providers allows doctors to avoid diagnostic errors, redundant tests, or drug prescription errors. By merely analyzing and connecting health data (for example allergies, medication information, or pre-existing conditions), care providers can detect patterns and prevent certain conditions or reduce their incidence by allowing earlier intervention.
- Patient privacy – Without the need to fill in dozens of forms that cross multiple hands until they reach the doctor’s office, patients can benefit from doctor-patient confidentiality. Interoperability increases health information privacy as the clinical staff will no longer update medical records manually, send it via fax, or communicate it over the telephone.
- Easy healthcare transition – Healthcare organizations now operate with a variety of EHRs, each one with a particular set of health data available. The key to interoperability is to standardize the data each organization is collecting, storing, and exchanging. For the patient, this will translate into a seamless transfer between healthcare providers. The medical staff will be able to continue the care process without further delays.
According to, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions the areas that will benefit the most from greater interoperability are Cost of Care (44%), Consumer experience (38%), Care coordination and patient outcomes (36%), access to care (33%), Value-based care, payment models, and/or contracting (28%).
Implementing interoperability in healthcare is not always a straightforward task as organizations deal with large amounts of incoming medical data. Most of the time is non-uniform and unstructured. For example, from various EHRs formats, wearable devices, or different healthcare platforms that store information from monitoring equipment, like vital sign data.
Through a survey, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions found out that healthcare facilities encountered several obstacles in the face of interoperability. The main concern refers to privacy and data security (51%), followed by the misalignment of data standards, semantic interoperability as HIMSS defined it (43%), and the number of disparate software vendors platforms they already use internally and externally (37%).
How to proceed with implementation as a healthcare organization? Think of the need, identify the level of interoperability that you want to achieve, and do an accurate assessment of where the organization is regarding interoperability and establish an ROI.
Healthcare software development companies approach an interoperability project with the data in mind. What data about patients will be accessible, in what format, from what source, who will view it? This way, the software development process is more efficient and always patient-oriented.
Our custom healthcare software development teams offer a distinctive approach to interoperability as they have the HL7 FHIR® (R4) Proficiency Certificate and have a clear understanding of the steps, manpower, and budgetary needs required for a complex integration process. It all starts with the right estimation to overcome the challenges of multiple systems and different formats.
73% of unstructured patient data is still unavailable for analysis – Hyland Healthcare and HIMSS Media Study
Are Health Organizations Ready for Interoperability?
As health data exchange will be essential for all healthcare industry members in the next five years, most organizations are already working on their strategic interoperability plans. This includes dedicated teams for implementation, an architecture strategy for integration, and the necessary technology capabilities for advancing interoperability (API adoption, use of the cloud, dedicated I.T. resources, etc.).
52% of hospitals in the U.S. can electronically find patient health information and 38% can use or integrate those data into their own EHRs, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. The division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explored the state of interoperability across the country.
On the other hand, in the European Union, there is not a single common EHR system operating across all Member States. To accelerate the adoption rate of interoperable health IT systems and help shape the digital future of healthcare, in early 2020, the EU has issued a policy regarding the exchange of EHRs across the European Union. The impact on patient health and its benefits are at the core of the recommendation that seeks to establish a standard format for the European Electronic Health Record.
Organizational interoperability comes in play as both the US and EU advance with interoperability. First, with semantic interoperability, health IT developers can make sure that the different systems can share data in an organized way by creating a common vocabulary, and the additional layer ensures that the interconnectivity of digital health data can expand to a global scale.
Healthcare Data Interoperability Market size was valued at a global level at USD 2.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to rise with 9.2% by 2025. This stands as proof of the speed interoperability is picking up and that it will become a real pillar for the future of health.