Healthcare Interoperability: The Benefits, Challenges and Solutions

Healthcare Interoperability: The Benefits, Challenges and Solutions

Peiru Teo
April 20, 2022
Healthcare Interoperability: The Benefits, Challenges and Solutions

Table of contents

The digitalization of healthcare promises great advances for global health, but it’s not without its own challenges. The healthcare industry is overrun with health information technology (HIT) systems — EHRs (electronic health records), billing software, various portals for every payer and individual medical tools that each have their own interfaces, just to name a few. Many of these technologies can’t work together due to siloed data and regulatory requirements, leaving healthcare providers and staff to do the manual work.

The administrative burden on the healthcare staff comes with a hefty tag. This is where healthcare interoperability comes in. Interoperability in healthcare helps to solve challenging hurdles of the healthcare system and reduces the cost of healthcare at an exponential rate.

Interoperability in the healthcare system is a complex phenomenon and can only be addressed in a conscious and planned way.  

What is Interoperability in Healthcare?

Healthcare data interoperability is a method for healthcare systems to access, share, integrate, interpret, and co-operate to use different information systems, applications, and devices in a coordinated manner. 

Interoperability within the healthcare systems can be used within and across regional, national, and organizational boundaries to obtain timeless and seamless information portability. It helps to optimize patient health globally. 

With healthcare data interoperability, you can access application interfaces, standards, and data exchange architecture and share data securely across a complete spectrum of healthcare with relevant stakeholders. 

Healthcare Interoperability Components

There are four levels of interoperability:  

  • Foundational level: It helps to establish interconnectivity requirements to communicate and receive data for a system securely 
  • Structural level: It helps to define the format and organization of data exchange 
  • Semantic level: It uses data elements with standardized definitions from coding vocabularies and available data sets to provide meaning and shared understanding to the user 
  • Organizational level: It includes legal, social, and organizational considerations so that you can facilitate secure, timely, and seamless use of data between and within organizations 

Interoperability in healthcare is a vital concept as it allows your patient easy access to their health information. It also helps you to deliver more thoughtful and efficient patient care. A challenge that lies for you is how to achieve interoperability in your system. 

Why is Interoperability Important in Healthcare?

Healthcare interoperability benefits

Health data has always been challenging to access and share in a secure manner. The nature of health data creates a paradox: It’s difficult to share because it’s sensitive and requires a high level of privacy and security, yet the inability to access it when it’s needed has potential to cause significant harm. A lack of interoperability can result in an incomplete understanding of an individual’s or population’s health needs, which can lead to poorer outcomes and higher costs.

The following are five leading benefits of interoperability solutions in healthcare:

  • Improved Quality of Healthcare and Patient Experience 

Interoperability is no more just a regulatory requirement; instead, it has become critical for improving patients’ health outcomes and delivering effective care. You can now develop an infrastructure that can maximize the value of EHRs and provide more comprehensive care.  

Because of the increased accessibility to the real-time information of the patient, doctors can now avoid errors and have a more holistic view of their patients. This can further help your doctors engage in and deliver seamless care to their patients

For example, lack of access to information regarding a certain drug allergy that was already there in another patient EHR at the time of an emergency can lead to faulty prescriptions and loss of life. 

  • Reduced Healthcare Cost 

Healthcare automation is already benefiting the industry by reducing time-consuming and expensive manual workload.   

As interoperability helps to share healthcare data between doctors, labs, and other healthcare staff, you can significantly reduce care costs. Interoperability helps improve the financial performance of healthcare systems because of a streamlined care delivery system. 

  • Secured Patient Data 

Patients trust healthcare organizations to maintain the security of their health data. However, with increasing cyberattacks on systems, you need to balance the patient data so that it is accessible to the staff, but patient privacy is still maintained.   

Healthcare data interoperability leverages Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)-compliant environments. This ensures that the data is shared securely among the staff and doctors

  • Increased Healthcare Efficiency  

Healthcare interoperability solutions improve not only healthcare quality but also the efficiency at which your hospital can deliver this care. It streamlines coordination and delivery of patient care. 

Healthcare interoperability eliminates tasks that guzzle time such as updating patient records, coordination between teams, etc. This helps accelerate medical research and reduce manual data entry.   

  • Mitigating Physicians and Staff Burnout 

The adoption of EHRs has exacerbated burnout amongst the healthcare staff and doctors. In addition to their daily healthcare duties, now maintaining EHRs takes up additional time. 

Healthcare data interoperability benefits your organization as it takes over labor-intensive tasks, reducing the need for manual data entry. When these backlogged tasks are taken up, the burden of staff and doctors reduces, leading to seamless data exchange. In addition, they can focus their energies on delivering quality patient care. 

The Challenges of Healthcare Data Interoperability

healthcare interoperability challenges

While many healthcare experts and leaders agree that better interoperability would improve healthcare overall, there are common challenges that healthcare organizations tend to face as they work on making their data and systems more interoperable. Let’s explore those challenges and how organizations can overcome them

  • Fragmented Coordination 

To improve interoperability, you will require strong coordination between healthcare facilities, leaders, and regulators. Though the regulatory system provides rules and regulations for the facilities to follow, you must remain proactive and create a dedicated strategy to adopt interoperability solutions in your facility. 

  • Legacy Systems 

Some healthcare systems might still be using older technology, so, in addition to bringing interoperability, they also face the challenge of modernizing their system first. To solve this dual problem, you can use a hybrid cloud platform where you can extract data from an outdated system and increase its accessibility to a modern program. In this way, you can keep your data moving evne as you update your system. 

  • Diverse Technology Needs 

Depending on the type of care you wish to provide to your patient or the location of the hospital, your facility needs to follow different rules laid down by the government bodies. As a result of this, you will require highly customized data. 

 Organizations can meet both goals using a hybrid cloud approach to extract data from legacy systems and make it more accessible for modern applications and programs. This approach gives organizations the option to keep data moving while they work on updating their systems.

  • Limited Budgets

Not all organizations have the financial or technical resources they need to invest in the technical resources needed to build a truly interoperable system. There may be some government grants available to update health records systems, so organizations should check to see if they’re eligible. Many cloud vendors also offer pay-as-you-go payment models that could make technical expenses more affordable and predictable.

How to Achieve Data Interoperability in Healthcare

The growing adoption of new electronic data interoperability standards like HL7 FHIR is accelerating the development and the benefits of interoperability in healthcare.

The goal of implementing interoperability in healthcare should be that the doctors and the staff have full access to the patient’s health records, regardless of where they are in the world. With interoperability, your patients will no longer need to carry their health records from one hospital to another.

Healthcare AI can act as an integrator for the workflows that bog down our healthcare system. With the power of artificial intelligence, health organizations can leverage a single integrator that works across different technology systems seamlessly to integrate data and provide interoperability.

You can navigate the challenges on the road to interoperability in the following ways: 

  • Rigorously Prepare Your Data 

The first step to complying with the rules and regulations of interoperability is to identify the needed data to support healthcare interoperability standards. After identifying the data, you need to look for gaps in data collection that require documentation. 

For successful interoperability, you need to produce quality data which is not possible without standardization of data collection and reporting. You need to ensure that the data produced by your organization is meaningful, that your patients can easily understand and is helpful to them.  

  • Adopt an API-First Approach

FHIR uses a standardized application programming interface (API) standards that allows for any EHR to feed information directly into the provider workflow that eliminates gaps and errors that may happen in paper-based or document based exchange.

FHIR, coupled with APIs, helps in streamlining processes like: 

  • Patients’ journey right from the time they choose your hospital 
  • Document flow through your system 
  • Interaction between doctors and patients 

Because the FHIR plus API approach connects different healthcare systems, it accelerates healthcare interoperability.

  • Adopt a Standardized Terminology 

The current need of the hour is to standardize the content and format of healthcare data so that the data flow complies with the standard terminology, which can be understood by computers, doctors, staff, and patients.  

For example, the medical classification list “ICD-10”, developed by the World Health Organization, contains codes for signs and symptoms, diseases, signs and symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, external causes of injury or conditions, and social circumstances.

Using the standardization approach, you can store the data in an agreed-upon format which helps for collaborative research, sharing of tools, and large-scale analytics.

  • Train and Educate Your doctors 

Doctors and hospital staff need to be educated about the ICT tools in healthcare. ICT is fundamentally used to store medical information electronically and retrieve this information when needed.  

Once doctors and healthcare staff are familiar with the ICT tools, they can acquire necessary skills, get away with unnecessary tasks, switch to digital systems, and record patient activity daily. It would also accelerate the adoption of how information exchange between different interconnected systems be more fluid.

Healthcare Interoperability – A Win-Win for Everyone!

Healthcare interoperability will continue to evolve as technological advancements are made. The global healthcare interoperability solutions market is expected to reach $5.7 billion by 2026. 

With more and more healthcare data accumulating each day, you need to find newer ways of monitoring things in your facility, and interoperability is the best way to achieve this goal.