Healthcare interoperability is based on the principle of interoperability: the ability of software, devices, or information systems to securely exchange information with each other and share access without barriers or restrictions.
Healthcare interoperability context
In the healthcare industry, numerous health organizations have begun introducing interoperability and health information (HIE) systems to facilitate the seamless sharing of medical data between health organizations, practitioners, and individuals. The goal of an HIE is to ultimately optimize global health and medical services by providing medical professionals with all the necessary information they may need to treat a patient effectively. Healthcare interoperability consists of four levels, some of which are already achievable through existing technology. Others will only be possible when new specialized technology is developed.
These four levels include the foundational level, where a system can send and securely receive data such as a PDF file. At the foundational level, the receiver does not need to have the ability to interpret data. The second level––the structural level––is where formatted information can be shared between and analyzed by multiple systems in the information’s original format. At the semantic level, data can be shared between systems of different data structures. Lastly, at the organizational level, health data and information can be effectively shared between various organizations.
Through interoperable healthcare systems, the treatment history of patients can be accessed from any location by authorized bodies, including hospitals, doctors and pharmacies. Such a system can eliminate the time needed to obtain patient data and cancel the need to repeat tests to determine a patient’s treatment history.
However, several barriers exist that are delaying the adoption and implementation of a globally interoperable healthcare system. Even though the US government has established favorable rules around healthcare interoperability, information system vendors continue to design digital healthcare infrastructure as closed systems to maintain their profitability.
For interoperability to work in the healthcare industry, governments should consider enforcing standards for technology vendors to support healthcare interoperability. Health organizations also face the dilemma of maintaining the security and confidentiality of the healthcare information in their possession while striving to make it easily accessible.
Organizations will likely need patient consent to make their personal health information more widely available to a network of healthcare practitioners. Funding may also be required to implement such a system while coordinating between healthcare companies and organizations to implement interoperability can be highly challenging.
Applications for healthcare interoperability
Possible implications of healthcare interoperability may include:
- Government health authorities and service providers being able to predict public health trends (including pandemic threats) by mining public healthcare information for actionable insights.
- Faster and more informed healthcare research by scientists through more accessible healthcare data.
- Improved healthcare results for the average patient as medical decisions can be more thorough, made faster, with minimized errors, and effective follow-ups.
- Cloud computing services employing a pay-as-you-go businesses model to support low-budget organizations that require these interoperable healthcare systems.
Questions to comment on
- What are the greatest challenges standing in the way of a globally interoperable healthcare system?
- How may an interoperable healthcare system affect the ability of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to treat patients from different countries?