Interoperability isn't necessarily a new concept to the healthcare industry, but it is an increasingly relevant one due to the massive amounts of data that are on the move in hospitals today. To put it simply, interoperability describes the level of cohesiveness that various systems and devices have in the ability to share and interpret collected data. Essentially, it's an ecosystem of data within hospitals. In order for there to be interoperability between multiple systems, each must be able to exchange all captured data and shape it so it can be easily read and understood by the user. Health information technology (HIT) systems now have the ability to pass data between clinician, hospital, and patient with relative ease, regardless of the chosen application or vendor.
Ideally, systems such as these are in place to push the overall delivery of care for patients. According to HIMS, there are three levels of interoperability in HIT: Foundational, Structural, and Semantic. Most systems today are at the highest level in order to maximize its potential in providing the highest level of patient care. It's at this stage that two or more systems can exchange information, use that information correctly, and exchange patient data that can then be shared amongst caregivers and other authorized members.
Interoperability has the ability to drastically change how hospitals function and care for patients, benefiting them in more ways than one.
Increasing Efficiency and Productivity
One of the most common challenges in healthcare today is being able to properly manage, share, and coordinate information in a way that maximizes the best care for patients. Interoperability fixes those issues directly. Hospitals are able to send and receive medical records, including referring provider notes from one provider to another, create a single view for all prescriptions, and send patient records at discharge from the hospital to other specified providers. That includes physicians, post-acute care, or long-term care facilities as well. When interoperability between systems isn't in place, productivity and efficiency can take a hit. Perhaps more importantly, the time it takes to discharge a patient can take an unnecessarily long time, directly effecting a hospital's bottom line. This is especially true with the industry's push towards quality care and patient outcome models. Higher costs due to lost productivity can be tied back to outdated systems that aren't integrated fully with all available systems as they pertain to patient care and coordination. It's taken quite a few years for interoperability to become the standard within hospitals, but it has become apparent that such systems are necessary to have in place now. Health records and other forms of patient information have become a consistent flow of discernible data.
Patient safety should always be at the core of the healthcare industry. When it comes to interoperability, patient safety has been at the forefront of arguments both for and against the use of such systems. Many critics point to the fact that so much sensitive patient data being shared across multiple platforms place it at greater risk of being compromised. This is certainly an understandable concern given how recent ransomware attacks, such as Wannacry and Petya, have seized hospital data and crippled systems. It's hard to argue that the healthcare industry is in an ideal spot to defend itself from such attacks. That still doesn't take away from the fact that interoperability helps patients receive the best quality care. Connected systems, digital patient archives, prescription tracking, and measurable data analytics are all features of interoperability that put patient care first. This ensures that the right patients are receiving the best possible care at the proper time and place. With patient data available across multiple systems, the likelihood of patients receiving unnecessary care goes down, which in-turn can decrease overall length of stay and speed up the discharge process.
Lowering Healthcare Costs
Many hospitals have turned to single EHRs to help streamline their workflow. These EHR systems can be very costly, both in the short and long term, and are often not a complete solution. Especially when it comes to functionality between multiple institutions. Interoperable systems can help streamline clinical paperwork, patient clinical tests, and reduce the overall length and cost of the administration process. By cutting back on the amount of time that it takes to complete such tasks and projects, resources and personnel can be allocated elsewhere to maximize their efficiency. It is worth mentioning however that despite its ability to lower costs long term, paying for interoperable services up front can be very costly and intimidating.
Putting Interoperability Together
While interoperability certainly has its challenges and critics, its benefits more than make up for its potential shortfalls. Results like increasing efficiency and productivity, an emphasis on patient care and safety, and lowering healthcare costs, to name a few, have helped hospitals streamline workflows. Through interoperability, medical records can be received directly from other providers, making the information more thorough, reliable, and accurate. This directly impacts how hospitals care for and handle patients and their data.