How often would you have sat in a doctor’s office and filled out a form with questions about your medical history?
When you see a new GP, reception often asks that you arrive 15 to 20 minutes early so you can complete these forms. Even after completing them, the GP will ask some background questions about your medical history and current medications or conditions before addressing the issue that prompted your visit.
While collecting this information is an incredibly important part of the process, we need better ways for healthcare providers to obtain your medical history. Imagine that the next time you go to a new GP, hospital or specialist, they have your medical history on hand. You do not need to spend time filling out a form where you will likely forget to note something, and the healthcare staff can save their time.
Healthcare interoperability is the solution that will make this possible for providers and patients alike. So, what exactly is interoperability? What are the precise benefits that it delivers?
Defining healthcare interoperability
Healthcare interoperability refers to the ability of different systems and devices to communicate with each other and exchange data seamlessly. Interoperability enables the exchange of administrative, financial, and clinical data between different systems, including patient demographics, insurance information, billing, payment information, insurance claims, consent, and patient health information such as medical history, diagnoses, medications, and lab results. The goal of integrated healthcare is to improve the quality of care, reduce costs, and enhance patient outcomes.
Four layers to device and app interoperability
Medical devices generate vast amounts of healthcare data across disparate devices and systems. The information generated must be standardised into a single, easy-use system for these devices to contribute to interoperability.
There are four different layers to device and app interoperability, each of which plays a critical role in enabling data exchange:
- The Perception Layer, including sensors and trackers: Sensors are devices, such as wearables, that track heart rate, sleep patterns, body temperature, etc.
- The Connectivity Layer, including networks and gateways: Devices and systems can transmit data via networks. For example, a Local Area Network (LAN) for a hospital would connect many sensors in that hospital. Bluetooth connection enables a wearable device to connect with a smartphone for someone to share information with a healthcare professional for remote monitoring.
- The Processing Layer, including middleware and cloud solutions: At this layer, insights and recommendations are created by processing and analysing data with various machine learning algorithms.
- The Application Layer: Everything comes together at this layer. Healthcare providers can access dashboards with patient data to make informed decisions about patient care. They can also access data analysis and communication options.
How do we measure the sophistication of these solutions?
There are four different levels that we use to measure the sophistication of these solutions when it comes to healthcare interoperability:
- Foundational: Data can be transmitted electronically at this level but is not yet standardised, so the data may be difficult to interpret or use in different systems. While this level of interoperability is a necessary starting point, it has limited usefulness in improving patient care as the data remains siloed in its original system.
- Structural: Data is transmitted electronically and is structured in a standardised way, using consistent formats and syntax. The data might be more easily understood and exchanged between different systems, improving the usefulness of the data for patient care. However, data may still be limited in its usefulness as it may not be fully semantically interoperable, meaning there may still be differences in how data is interpreted and used by different systems.
- Semantic: At this level, data is transmitted electronically, structured, and semantically standardised. Data is formatted consistently, and there is a common understanding of the data’s meaning across different systems.
- Organisational: The interoperability solution complies with common policies, procedures, and governance structures to support secure and effective data exchange. It also involves addressing legal and regulatory issues, such as privacy and security concerns, to ensure ethical and legal data exchange. The organisational level of interoperability is crucial for achieving the full benefits, including improved patient outcomes and reduced healthcare costs.
Why is interoperability critical in healthcare?
Healthcare interoperability offers many benefits to patients, healthcare providers, and payers. One key benefit is the prevention of medical errors, as interoperable systems allow for a more comprehensive view of a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, and medications across different providers and care settings.
In addition to improving patient care, healthcare interoperability can lower healthcare costs. By reducing the redundant collection of information, healthcare providers can eliminate the need for unnecessary tests, procedures, and consultations, saving time and money. It can also help providers identify high-risk patients earlier, allowing for intervention and potentially reducing the need for expensive treatments.
Interoperability reduces administrative burdens and improves efficiency by removing the need for manual data entry and streamlining the claims and payment process for payers. This can save time and resources, enabling providers to focus on providing high-quality care to their patients.
Interoperability also involves patients in their health journey by providing them access to their health information, including medical records, test results, and treatment plans. As a result, patients can become more engaged with their healthcare journey, leading to better health outcomes.
Fluffy Spider develops healthcare interoperability solutions
We help organisations move toward a future of connected digital healthcare, making existing systems interoperable and modernising infrastructure to unlock the potential of new technologies.
We can help you identify the relevant opportunities to incorporate modern web services and standards for health information exchange, such as HL7 and FHIR fast healthcare interoperability resources, enabling systems to interoperate with other modern health information exchange technologies from the medical software industry and those already implemented by large healthcare providers such as Government health departments.
Visit our Healthcare Integration Services page to learn more about our capabilities and solutions.