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Read full post: What is Interoperability in Healthcare? - PaceMate

What is Interoperability in Healthcare? - PaceMate

In an era where healthcare is rapidly advancing, new concepts, technologies, and devices continue to revolutionize the industry.

Enter interoperability: A transformative concept that is revolutionizing the healthcare landscape as we know it.

But what exactly is interoperability, and why is it a game-changer for the industry?

Below, we’ll dive into what interoperability in healthcare is, its benefits, examples, and what the future will hold. 

A circuit board design with black, light blue, and yellow lines representing interoperability.

What Does Interoperability Mean?

Interoperability is the ability of two or more different technology systems, applications, devices, or software to exchange, access, and cooperate with data.

The ultimate goal is for these systems to seamlessly share information — no matter the architecture or technology.

Within the healthcare space, interoperability facilitates the transfer of information between several different parties, including healthcare providers, patients, laboratories, pharmacies, data systems, and more

The Importance and Benefits of Interoperability in Healthcare

Interoperability in healthcare addresses several needs of both patients and providers while offering numerous benefits in the healthcare space.

Better Patient Care

The most crucial benefit of interoperability in healthcare is centered around patient care.

To provide the best care for a patient, a clinician relies on various sources of information to paint the complete picture of care. Unfortunately, these information sources are often managed in different systems.

Interoperability helps them connect data between different systems and see all the data in a single system.

For example, patients with pacemakers have data transmitted from their devices to cloud-based software. Interoperability allows their I can cardiologists to view this information in one platform alongside other healthcare data without the need to use multiple software simultaneously. This saves time and creates efficiency for clinicians.

Efficient Decision Making

Efficiency is crucial in healthcare. Providers need seamless access to information located all in the same place to make quick and effective patient care decisions.

With more efficient systems in place, healthcare providers can offer not only better quality care but also treat more patients in a shorter time.

Interoperability gives healthcare providers the information they need at their fingertips, effectively streamlining more of the administrative burden with accurate data available to them immediately.

It also facilitates the triaging process. Triaging can be difficult for healthcare, considering the many factors in play. Not only do providers need to assess the patient’s current state, but they also need to have any background medical information that could affect the patient and make it more critical to see them quickly.

With interoperability, providers now have seamless access to patient information in one location. They can effectively manage their patients more effectively and efficiently with all of the relevant information in front of them in one platform.

Additionally, if they have access to intelligent software algorithms, some clinical triage may be automatically completed on their behalf — such that clinicians can prioritize patients who need to be seen quicker. These capabilities expand efficiency to their entire clinical practice, not just within one patient, and may lead to better overall patient care. 

Improved Research

Interoperability in healthcare creates vast opportunities for healthcare research and innovation. Researchers can gain valuable insights into disease patterns, treatment effectiveness, and population health trends.

This data-driven research can lead to the discovery of new therapies, better clinical guidelines, and improved healthcare delivery models.

Reduced Costs

Interoperability eliminates the need for manual data entry, faxing, and sharing paper-based records across providers, streamlining administrative processes. Healthcare organizations can save time, reduce errors, and allocate resources more effectively. This is helpful since up to 25% of healthcare costs can be attributed to administrative costs.

Additionally, interoperability promotes cost savings by minimizing redundant tests, avoiding adverse events, and optimizing healthcare resource utilization.

Levels of Interoperability in Healthcare

In healthcare, there are levels of interoperability, with each one building on the last.

There are three levels of interoperability in healthcare:

  • Foundational interoperability
  • Structural interoperability
  • Semantic interoperability

Foundational Interoperability 

Foundational interoperability is the most basic tier of interoperability. Here, systems can exchange data with each other, but the receiving system can’t interpret the data without the aid of other technologies.

Think of it as sets of building blocks from different manufacturers. They can be stacked together but won’t fit together perfectly without extra tools or modifications. The blocks lack standardized connections, making it challenging for them to interlock seamlessly.

Structural Interoperability

As the middle tier of interoperability, structural interoperability builds on the first tier by defining the format, syntax, and organization of the data at the individual field level.

Keeping with the building blocks analogy, structural interoperability is like using building blocks from the same manufacturer. This time, they have defined shapes and sizes, making connecting easier.

However, the blocks might still require specific instructions or diagrams to ensure a proper connection.

Semantic Interoperability 

Semantic interoperability is the gold standard and the desired level for most organizations. It’s essentially full interoperability —  systems can share and exchange data while interpreting it at the highest level.

Semantic interoperability helps eliminate technology gaps between software systems and data sources.

Here, the building blocks form one universal, standardized construction system. All manufacturers use the same specifications, enabling all blocks to fit together perfectly. Beyond that, the blocks connect smoothly in terms of function and design.

Examples of Interoperability

The best way to understand how crucial interoperability is to the healthcare industry is to look at real-world examples of interoperability.

Here are three examples:

Electronic Health Record (EHR) Interoperability

EHR interoperability allows for the seamless exchange of patient data between health records and other systems. Interoperable healthcare systems enable patient information, such as medications, diagnosis codes, medical history, test results, and treatment plans, to be securely accessed and shared across healthcare settings.

There are many different kinds of EHR integrations. To expand on the previous example, with EHR interoperability, a pacemaker report transmission can be sent to and saved as clinical documentation within a patient's health record.  This enables a comprehensive understanding of the patient's health status and ensures coordinated, efficient, and quality care.

Smart Home Tech

To truly understand interoperability, let’s look at an example outside of healthcare.

Smart home technology has permeated our lives in several ways — the more interoperable they are, the better they all work together to facilitate our lives.

For example, a Google Home device can control a TV, thermostat, and several other home devices — all using a simple app you can control from your phone.

Home-Based Care

Home-based care is a necessity for some patients who can’t readily access their healthcare providers in a time of need. For others, it’s simply a convenience that they can’t ignore.

Using interoperable remote monitoring devices, patients can capture medical data and seamlessly transmit the data to their healthcare provider. From there, providers can take the data and outline next steps or instructions for patients at home.

Standards in Interoperability

Interoperability standards are established guidelines, protocols, and frameworks that define the technical specifications and requirements for seamless data exchange and communication between different healthcare systems, devices, and applications.

These standards ensure that different systems (such as insurance claim systems, clinical decision support systems, and pharmacy management systems), can understand, interpret, and exchange data in a consistent and standardized manner — regardless of the vendor or technology involved.

There are five types of interoperability standards:

  1. Terminology Standards
  2. Content Standards
  3. Transport Standards
  4. Privacy and Security Standards
  5. Identifier Standards

Terminology Standards

Terminology standards create effective communication between the sender and receiver of information. They include structured terminologies, vocabularies, code sets, and classification systems.

Some examples include the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®), and the FDA’s National Drug Code (NDC).

Content Standards

Content standards aim to organize and create structure within the information exchanged between two or more systems.

One example of content standards for interoperability is HL7—one of the most widely used messaging standards in the industry.

Transport Standards

Transport standards define the message format exchanged between systems.

Examples of transport standards include Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM), Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), and IHE.

Privacy and Security Standards

Privacy and security standards protect medical records and other personal health information by determining the specifics of how the information is accessed, collected, used, and disclosed.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) outlines the standards for health information with both the Privacy Rule and the Security Rule.

Identifier Standards

Identifier standards allow different systems to identify unique patients and providers.

The Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI) or the Medical Record Number (MRN) are examples of identifier standards.

The Future of Interoperability

Although significant advances in data sharing have been made, there are still some challenges for providers to overcome, such as limited resources from smaller practices. However, as we’ve seen over the past two decades, we also expect to see more adoption of interoperability in healthcare moving forward.

Further implementation of standardized data formats, such as the FHIR standard, will allow important health information and data to be shared amongst many different providers. It will also help provide the best possible healthcare to patients everywhere.

Interoperability in healthcare will be crucial for quality and efficient patient care, and PaceMate is proud to contribute to innovative solutions and interoperability moving forward.

Looking For More Information on Interoperability?

If you’re looking for more information on interoperability, we can help. PaceMate’s resources section includes material on interoperability, remote monitoring, and how to provide the best healthcare experience for patients and providers.

Check out our resources today.

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