Why Healthcare Interoperability Is So Important In 2022

Lisa Esch

By Lisa Esch, chief of strategy, innovation and provider industry solutions, NTT DATA Services.

The current state of our healthcare system is in disarray. Healthcare organizations are overworked and understaffed as they deal with the ongoing pandemic resulting in half of all healthcare workers reporting they’ve experienced burnout during this time.

Technology has the potential to solve these challenges, and as more digital health options become available, healthcare practitioners are using more tools that allow them to work more quickly and better serve patients.

Unfortunately, most health technology is developed in a vacuum creating silos of critical information inaccessible and unconnected in caring for patients. Disjointed and disconnected services result in key pieces of information not being available at the time and place required, and productivity can be impacted when healthcare practitioners have to navigate multiple source systems to retrieve data. In turn, this impacts the number of patients that can be seen in a given period and can potentially put human lives on the line if medically critical data is inaccessible in an emergency.

The healthcare community is beginning to embrace a solution to this problem: interoperability. Let’s explore what this means for healthcare providers and why it’s so important in the disorganized, digital healthcare system of 2022.

What’s healthcare interoperability? Why does it matter? 

Interoperability services and tools bridge the gap between incompatible systems and data sets, providing a more seamless experience for both patient and provider. It has two primary definitions:

  1. Interoperability (noun) – a class of services designed to allow diverse systems to interact and share common data sets.
  2. Interoperability (verb) – the process by which standards are leveraged to move data, in real time, from one service to the other.

For example, a patient scheduling tool may not be able to integrate with a telehealth video tool, which means that the patient and the scheduler would need to access two separate services to schedule a visit. With interoperability, the tools can share scheduling information with each other via an Application Programming Interface (API) giving the patient a single user interface for a more cohesive experience. Ultimately, the goal of interoperability is to provide a means by which patients, caregivers and administrative staff have seamless access to necessary services and information to support the delivery of care and improve patient wellbeing.

The availability of standards such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) enable and facilitate this level of interoperability and provide a common way of sharing information, reducing data silos and powering the healthcare ecosystem. The use of these tools provides a means by which data is immediately available between applications, services and patient/provider facing capabilities.

The benefits for patients and medical professionals

In the healthcare field, having access to all data is less critical than having access to the right data at the right time. For example, in a medical emergency, a provider doesn’t have time to navigate several different tools to gather the information he or she needs to make an informed decision that could ultimately  save the patient’s life. They need all relevant information about the patient, at their fingertips, from medical history to current vitals, in one place.

With the volume of patients at record highs, hospitals are overwhelmed, and medical professionals can’t be delayed by technology that doesn’t work well together. Interoperability maximizes the number of patients able to be seen in a given day, both reducing wait times for patients in need of urgent medical care and making it possible to treat more patients overall.

From the patient side, think about accessing bloodwork results in a portal. Many of us would not understand the acronyms used in the results (“What’s a CBC?”), let alone what the actual results mean for their health. With interoperability (and a touch of AI), the tool could interpret the result for the patient by pulling data in real time from other clinical systems and an external knowledge base like Google. With greater insight into the results, we as the patient can feel confident in the information in front of us and more empowered to take control of our health.

The healthcare industry is only now embracing true interoperability, meaning many benefits to implementing interoperability are likely not yet realized. But the bottom line is simple – you shouldn’t have to repeat things in your healthcare experience or have to have nine different portals. The healthcare experience should be seamless for caregivers and patients alike, and it’s exciting to think about the advancements in patient care that interoperability will bring.

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