What is Interoperability?
Systems and devices that can pass data between each other are considered interoperable if that shared data can be presented in a way that can be comprehended by the user.
When this definition is applied to a healthcare environment, it becomes the way in which data is transmitted between different software and technology to be read by those operating at different levels within the space. The data must be able to be shared between those using the systems so that the delivery of healthcare can be improved at all stages, from clinicians all the way to their patients.
The three different levels of interoperability in healthcare technology are:
Foundational, Structural, and Semantic, and are outlined below.
1. Foundational: There is no need for the exchanged data to be interpreted by the second IT system, only for data exchange to be successful between two systems.
2. Structural: When the data that is exchanged between IT systems can be interpreted at a data field level then the interoperability is of a structural level. This means that the data has not been altered in any way as the message format has been defined so that there is uniform movement of data between systems.
3. Semantic: This is the highest level of data exchange between IT systems because the data needs to be exchanged and structured in such a way that it can be understood. It uses the structuring and codification of the healthcare data to allow its message to be interpreted and this can then support the exchange of information of patients between caregivers and other authorised parties. This data exchange can be carried out using Electronic Health Record systems, and others, which would improve the quality and efficient of healthcare delivery.
The Importance of Data
Healthcare organisations typically use various software applications or devices to store data specifically to those systems, making it hard for data to be shared across patients and organisations. Interoperability makes it easier for data to be shared because it establishes a common language of communication for these IT systems. By allowing data to be shared across other systems universally, it can lead to the formation of one consistent body of patient information.
There is increased competition in the healthcare marketplace, as a result of smaller companies finding niche solutions to issues that larger companies might not have been able to focus on. This continuation to meet healthcare demands only continues to grow, which ultimately results in improved quality, reduced costs, and innovative healthcare solutions.
1 HIMSS Dictionary of Healthcare Information Technology Terms, Acronyms and Organizations, 2nd Edition, 2010, Appendix B, p190, original source: Wikipedia.
2 American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), Center for Health IT, 2013.
3 HIMSS Dictionary of Healthcare Information Technology Terms, Acronyms and Organizations, 3rd Edition, 2013, p. 75.
4 National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) Report on Uniform Data Standards for Patient Medical Record Information, July 6, 2000, pp. 21-22.
5 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE Standard Computer Dictionary: A Compilation of IEEE Standard Computer Glossaries, New York, NY: 1990.
6 HIMSS Dictionary of Healthcare Information Technology Terms, Acronyms and Organizations, 2nd Edition, 2010, Appendix B, p190, original source: HIMSS Electronic Health Record Association.