Does your healthcare practice or organisation leverage interoperability? 

Interoperability brings together processes, databases, devices and software systems so they can communicate with each other. As new models of care continue emerging and evolving, healthcare professionals, manufacturers, and organisations need to share information at a growing pace and with a growing number of applications. Interoperability in healthcare is the key solution to this challenge.


What is interoperability in healthcare?

Healthcare interoperability can help patients, hospitals, labs, private practices, and providers exchange data quickly. By sharing patient records, real-time diagnostics, notifications, claims, laboratory results and more, an integrated, interoperable infrastructure offers a frictionless workflow and a holistic view of the patient, their conditions, and the potential for as-needed responses.

Instead of having separate patient information spread across multiple systems and facilities, interoperability helps the relevant information to be collected when and where it is needed. Healthcare data shared this way becomes immediately available and can be easily understood by the recipient. Interoperability in healthcare can also connect devices, apps and wearables, and help with the transfer of care. 

Interoperability in healthcare offers several benefits to patients, doctors, hospitals, researchers, and others. One of the significant advantages of interoperability is that it helps providers budget their time. Instead of mining disconnected information from different locations, they can focus on meaningful patient interactions and care. Healthcare interoperability creates better and more complete medical records. It reduces redundancy and waste, helps with data integrity, allows faster treatment decisions to be made, and can lead to patients feeling more confident about their care.


How interoperability in healthcare works

Imagine you are a clinician seeing a patient for the first time. The patient has never visited your clinic; they have just moved to the area. Without interoperability, what would follow is an interview trying to catch up with your condition and entire medical history. You would need to discuss current medications and previous treatments. Every step after a visit will have to follow a similar approach. For example, nurses would have to create new treatments from scratch. The billing department would also have to create new documentation and billing entries. More repetitive processes and paperwork for everyone!

Interoperability in healthcare simplifies this process substantially. The same story, with interoperability, would go as follows. The patient walks in, and the clinician already has access to their health records and their complete medical history. There is no need to spend time catching up. Once the appointment is over, nurses can begin treatment. The billing department does not need to enter codes, either. These are already in the system. After treatment, all that’s left is to wait for the insurance carrier to send the payment. 

The main advantage of healthcare interoperability is that it integrates multiple disconnected systems into a cohesive solution to be used as needed by the different parts of the healthcare journey. This integration allows data to flow more freely between the different parts of the business and outside the organisation as well, converting the data as needed.


Levels of interoperability

There are four different levels of healthcare interoperability. These are foundational, structural, semantic, and organisational.

At the foundational interoperability level, systems should be able to talk to each other. Interoperability opens a channel to exchange data between health systems. At this level, the systems are not yet interpreting the data. They are just communicating and storing the information. 

Structural interoperability ensures data follows a particular format, so people interpret it correctly. What this usually means is that participants need to all agree on data format standards. Standardised formats can help the variety of devices, and third-party applications integrate more readily.

The third level, semantic interoperability, refers to the ability of a system to share information and have it correctly interpreted. It is about how the data will be handled and used. Ideally, each system will analyse and understand the data in the same way. Otherwise, a potential risk is that doctors misdiagnose patients if a system does not recognise or misinterprets a condition, for example.

Lastly, interoperability in healthcare frequently requires implementation and management at the organisational level. This is what makes the system tangible. This can also include social and administrative policies. These policies can, for example, introduce workflows that allow for safer data exchange.

Interoperability in healthcare is a complex concept. However, when approached holistically, it can simplify operations and provide better care.


Challenges for interoperability in healthcare

Healthcare interoperability does not come without its challenges. When an organisation decides to transition to interoperable systems, it should consider a few things. 

Initially, they must consider technical limitations that exist in their current infrastructure. Imagine an integrated system where thousands of devices are sending and receiving data. They communicate constantly, and all the information needs to be processed. Frequently, this data does not share a universal standard. Unless one system is able to understand what the other is sending, the data is not useful. To compound the issue, new IT systems and new data acquisition products and devices will be added over time. Most of them will require a degree of customisation to make records user-friendly and interoperable, even current standards that promote interoperability require some customisation.

The second set of challenges is financial. It costs money to develop, implement and maintain systems. This cost might feel especially prohibitive for smaller practices. In the mid to long term, however, investment in interoperable infrastructure and corresponding systems and devices pays off. New systems can be brought into the practice with less initial capital overhead, due to smaller costs associated with integration, and ongoing maintenance costs will be reduced for the same reason. 

Healthcare providers often use multiple systems to analyse and track their data. This opens the door for many connectivity and integration challenges that can come at a high cost. Fortunately, cloud computing can help healthcare providers achieve better and cheaper interoperability. Cloud-based solutions offer a centralised healthcare integration platform where hospitals, professionals, providers and even patients can access data quickly. Many organisations also use application programming interfaces (APIs) – a way for systems to communicate with each other safely and securely. When these APIs conform to current interoperability standards it is more likely that the services using the APIs will require less customisation to work seamlessly.

Although implementing interoperability in healthcare can seem like a daunting task, the benefits will quickly become evident. Doctors have access to better patient data, in real-time when required, and can make better-informed decisions. Interoperability also reduces errors and delays and improves patient safety. In a changing world where care takes precedence, the question is not if but when


Fluffy Spider and interoperability

Fluffy Spider Technologies creates commercially viable software systems for interoperable digital healthcare that manages the electronic health data journey from devices to the cloud and to medical record systems.

High-quality commercial software requires a dedicated team with relevant experience. We can work with you through the entire process, from concept to commercialisation.

Visit the healthcare integration and our Integration Services page to learn more about our capabilities and solutions.