Interoperability in Healthcare: Why is it so Important?

Nidhi
22 May 2023
Ditstek Blogs

 Electronic Health Records

Healthcare data and its boundaries are like oil and vinegar. It’s difficult to share as it is sensitive and requires a high level of privacy and security. The abundant health information amassed from EHRs, EMRs, patient portals, insurance forms, and other health system is like a maze of data with a significant gap between each player. This inability to access data when needed leads to a vague understanding of a patient’s or population’s health needs, which results in poor health outcomes. Thus, building ‘bridges’ to cover this gap between information systems is crucial so that healthcare providers or stakeholders can collaborate and use data in innovative ways to create a better healthcare system of tomorrow. We call this bridge ‘Interoperability.’

So, what is interoperability and why is it so important in healthcare? Let’s discuss!

Why is Interoperability Important in Healthcare?

Healthcare Data Interoperability

Patient information, just like other information in the global data sphere, is exploding. Not only is patient data growing in terms of total volume, but it is also becoming more diverse and complex. More information can provide more and deeper insights, but it creates more challenges in classifying and analyzing data to make it useful. As data grows, so does the need for more securely integrating or sharing it to ensure accurate and complete information for decision-making.

To understand the role of interoperability in healthcare, take an example of workflow in a health system. There is an HMS that the healthcare staff uses to gather, align, and process information across departments. Then, there are EHRs that are not accessible to patients and a billing or claims management system in between. Furthermore, EMRs and EHRs that are regarded as the central storehouse of patient data, sometimes don’t handle unstructured data like clinician notes, medical images, etc. This means, patient information is often fragmented across specialties and is inaccessible, causing delays in valuable collaboration.

However, when all the systems are interoperable, you get an integrated data ecosystem where critical health data flows seamlessly and communicate with each other. Apart from helping physicians and healthcare providers see a more complete view of patient journeys, here is how it helps organizations across the industry -

  • With integrated health data systems, health plans could understand their utilization rate or service demand better.
  • Healthcare providers can use population data to understand key trends and take steps to meet people’s needs.
  • Healthcare, pharmaceutical, and life science organizations can use data to drive better research.

What are the benefits of healthcare interoperability?

challenges with healthcare interoperability

Interoperability brings three important benefits to healthcare -

Allows better care coordination

An integrated data ecosystem allows clinicians or doctors to access patients’ information quickly, which reduces the need for repetitive tests, and inappropriate treatments and prevents miscommunications.

Data-driven improvements

Interoperability makes it possible for healthcare providers to study data trends and use data-driven approaches to improve patient care and other processes.

Better performance

By reducing the amount of unnecessary administrative work, data interoperability creates satisfying experiences for staff, as well as users.

FHIR - An Attempt to Improve Interoperability

challenges with healthcare interoperability

Health systems can’t share data unless it is structured. Thus, organizations strive to develop healthcare interoperability standards for health systems; FHIR is one such standard.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources or FHIR, a brainchild of HL7, is an open-source standards framework for healthcare data. As one of the most important standards being implemented in the healthcare industry, it eases the healthcare data flow from one system to the other.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources or FHIR, a brainchild of HL7, is an open-source standards framework for healthcare data. As one of the most important standards being implemented in the healthcare industry, it eases the healthcare data flow from one system to the other. 

By organizing data into resources, FHIR provides a standardized structure for how data is organized or interpreted by different applications or systems. It could be anything from an EHR system to a legacy platform. Healthcare providers can use this easily accessible data to offer better, and more value-based care. In addition, FHIR can also be integrated with APIs to streamline processes, such as document flow through EHRs, patient journeys, care coordination, etc. FHIR has amazing web formats, resources, and RESTful architectures which offer IoT benefits and paves the way to healthcare settings.

Clearly, FHIR connects health systems through APIs and boosts interoperability. The standard is here to stay, and decision-makers need to keep this in mind for overall health system development.

Key Challenges with Healthcare Interoperability

FHIR

While most healthcare providers agree that interoperability is the need of the hour, a yawning gap exists between what they need to do and how successfully they do it. This is because there are several challenges that must be overcome to achieve the level of interoperability needed to enjoy the benefits of HIE (Health Information Exchange).

The challenges include -

FHIR

A Torrent of Standards

Though standard formats like HL7 and FHIR are becoming increasingly popular, and new regulations encourage EHR vendors to provide APIs that support interoperability, many providers use custom EHR systems that are tough to convert to a standard format.

Unjust Data Exchange Practices

There is no paucity of providers in the market who use interoperability to fill their pockets. They charge high fees in order to make patient data accessible, which is a major roadblock to interoperability. Then, there are insurance companies that deny sharing health data with providers. Think of an interoperable health system where you could learn everything about your patient’s treatment journey by looking into their claims.

Financial Burdens

Interoperability requires an initial investment that may be costly for some providers, even though it offers big savings in the long run. Lack of training and skills also affects smooth interoperability. Stakeholders need to invest in upskilling their staff and involve everyone in the process and this takes time.

What is the Future of Interoperability in Healthcare?

benefits of healthcare interoperability

With FHIR and HIMSS interoperability initiatives in the discussion, healthcare providers are eager to leverage the potential of shared data and connected care to improve healthcare outcomes. However, key challenges in automating secure data flow and implementing interoperability still remain.

Here is what stakeholders are looking to adopt to overcome interoperability challenges-

APIs in Healthcare for Secure Third-Party Integrations

benefits of healthcare interoperability

APIs make it easy to achieve healthcare interoperability at all levels. By giving patients access to treatment records, claims, lab results, etc., and consolidating patient data into one place so that doctors or clinicians can understand the patient history quickly, APIs bridge the gap between data and functionalities.

FHIR APIs will soon be finding their way to every healthcare platform.

Looking to integrate APIs into your existing network or develop a new one within your strategy? We can help. We offer custom healthcare solutions and build medical interfaces and backends using cutting-edge technology to drive results.

AI in Healthcare

interoperability in healthcare

Healthcare data is complex. When it flows from one system to the other, it is crucial to prevent it from overflowing. Luckily, AI systems can process the brimming health data, clinical records, patient forms, etc., and helps address interoperability challenges related to data handling.

Blockchain

While sharing sensitive healthcare data, security is utmost important. Blockchain would be seen as a robust technology to address data security issues in healthcare.

Is Interoperability your Agenda? DITS is the name you can trust to reach your goal.

There is no thumb rule for interoperability, but the key challenge that most organizations face is to comply with healthcare standards and use data to improve their tech capabilities. Here, partnering with a reliable custom healthcare software development service provider can help.

We understand what it takes to deliver value-based care, and we have the industry knowledge, skills, and expertise to help healthcare providers get there. Whether you want to develop a telemedicine platform, HMS, or RCM, we keep interoperability and healthcare regulations at the forefront. We build software that can be integrated with your existing system for streamlined data sharing.

Ready to harness the power of interoperability in your healthcare system? Get in touch with us today!

Nidhi

Nidhi Thakur

With more than 19 years of experience - I represent a team of professionals that specializes in the healthcare and business and workflow automation domains. The team consists of experienced full-stack developers supported by senior system analysts who have developed multiple bespoke applications for Healthcare, Business Automation, Retail, IOT, Ed-tech domains for startups and Enterprise Level clients.

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