What does the future of healthcare look like?
This is a question many healthcare providers, as well as patients, ask regularly. Finding a proper answer can be a bit tricky but one thing is for certain – interoperability in healthcare is slowly coming and it is transforming healthcare as we know it.
But what is interoperability exactly? And more importantly, how will it affect the way people get treated when they are sick? Let’s take a look and find out.
What is interoperability in healthcare?
Interoperability in healthcare is a system that allows for certain healthcare information technology (HIT) to exchange, interpret, and use data cohesively. It all started in 2009 when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was enacted. This means that healthcare providers had to switch from paper to electronic health records.
Besides many other industry-changing factors, ARRA stipulated expectations for health information technology to electronically exchange data. There has been a major development in healthcare in recent years and it might be the leading force pushing the industry towards interoperability today.
Software solutions of this kind that are available today are developed in silos, which leads to disjointed communications once they get paired and used together. Even though integrations work to a certain degree, the purpose of interoperability is to have a holistic view of patients no matter the array of technologies used across hospitals.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) released an article that explained what data exchange schema and standards should actually do. The goal is to allow data to be shared across clinicians, labs, hospitals, pharmacies, and patients regardless of the application or application vendor.
Interoperability ensures that health information systems will be able to work together inside and across organizational boundaries with the main goal of advancing the effective delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities.
What does interoperability in healthcare imply?
Considering that HIMSS updated the definition of healthcare interoperability with the aim to make it better suited for large healthcare ecosystems, an organizational interoperability level was added to the existing foundational, structural, and semantic levels.
Now, through interoperability in healthcare, devices, software, and information systems are able to connect within or outside the boundaries of healthcare organizations to exchange and access patient data. The goal of this is to address the health issues of individual patients and the population in general.
There are several levels of health information technology interoperability:
- Foundational interoperability – the capability of one information system to receive data from another.
- Structural interoperability – a more complex level that allows defining the structure for data exchange so that the receiving information system can interpret the data at the data field level.
- Semantic interoperability – information systems can exchange and fully interpret received data at this level.
- Organizational interoperability – the level that adds non-technical components (social and organizational aspects and exchange policies).
It is crucial that we have this kind of exchange of information in healthcare if society wants advancement. Below are listed the exact benefits brought by interoperability.
With real-time results available right away, hospitals can reduce dull repetitive tasks and drastically increase margins by treating more patients and improving the quality of care they receive.
Moreover, patients will have better control over their own data. In turn, this removes a significant amount of that administrative burden. What’s left of administrative and clinical functions will be streamlined due to accurate data.
A lot of people receive care from various clinics, practices, and hospitals. Each individual interaction makes up the whole of their medical history, which is also known as the Continuum of Care. This continuum records previous symptoms, procedures, allergies, complications, and so on.
Not having access to all of those details due to the lack of integrated healthcare IT systems is dangerous, as it can result in the wrong treatment for the patient. Therefore, complete visibility and access to patient data for both the healthcare institution and the patient is the key interoperability perk.
Financial incentives and reimbursements
Practices that adopted Electronic Health Records (EHR) received incentives from Meaningful Use. This set the tone for interoperability between systems and their alignment with financial incentives.
It is likely that this will keep happening and that it will be important for future developments in value-based care, emphasizing the relationship between patient outcomes and financial performance.
Interoperability success examples
Spain is one of the countries that invested its efforts into connecting, sharing, and using patient information throughout the hospital network more efficiently and with better results. Interoperability brings complexity, but there are many success stories and that is a clear signal that interoperability between different health systems is possible.
A successful case from Spain is, no doubt, the Electronic Health Record project launched in 2006, which has enabled controlled access to patient information from any point of care, whether primary or specialized.
In 2015, Spain launched a project with the aim to make electronic prescriptions interoperable throughout its territory, and by 2017, many autonomous communities got incorporated into a single national electronic prescription system.
Mexico has also seen success from using interoperability. Communicating and exchanging information about newborns in this country has been a troubling obstacle that involved exchanging and using the information recorded for every newborn in order to start their medical care from that day onwards through the Electronic Health Record.
This single record will now manage the newborn’s illnesses, vaccinations, accidents, hospitalization, surgery, treatments, allergies, and all aspects that are related to their health. CEN has been implemented in 16 states in Mexico and more than 50,000 birth certificates have already been issued thanks to it.
Interoperability’s main focus, for now, has been on facilitating communication, exchange, and use of patient information between healthcare providers and patients. However, seeing that interoperability has a lot of potential, it will most likely broaden its scope and ensure that the exchange of information between all entities is possible.
Ultimately, patients will receive better and more accurate treatment while healthcare providers will have no problem finding all important details regarding patients’ health history when they need it.