The evolving healthcare industry poses a number of challenges to both big and small hospitals and healthcare organizations.
One of the major issues the industry faces today is linking together disconnected silos of patient data. Although a large amount of healthcare data - particularly in surgery - is being generated at the moment, it is scattered across multiple platforms.
So, in recent years, it has become a prerequisite for data to be exchanged and communicated between different hospital IT systems and healthcare providers. This is where the concept of interoperability becomes critical to achieving better healthcare.
Interoperability in hospital IT systems refers to real-time data exchange without the use of middleware. Interoperable systems are capable of not just sharing information, but also interpreting incoming data and presenting it as it was received, without any change to the original context. With interoperability, data from a range of vital sources - including laboratories, pharmacies, and surgical records - can be exchanged and shared seamlessly between systems.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMSS) defines interoperability and includes four types of data exchange :
- Foundational interoperability refers to the inter-connectivity requirements needed for one system to securely communicate data and receive data from another.
- Structural interoperability defines the syntax of the data exchange and ensures that data exchanges between systems can be interpreted at the data field level. Most EHRs today represent structural interoperability.
- Semantic interoperability defines the capacity of two or more systems to exchange, interpret, and utilize data. Semantic interoperability includes standard or publicly available vocabulary, to make it possible for the receiving information management system to interpret the data.
- Finally, organizational interoperability includes technical components and the policy, social, and organizational elements that enable health data exchange.
Looking to the OR, interoperability enables surgeons to obtain a complete picture of a patient’s health - including prior treatments and images -regardless of the department in which that patient previously received care. Surgeons won't need to rely on logging into multiple systems to obtain this information. It's about convenience, patient safety, and accuracy. Interoperability simply allows surgeons to make better informed decisions during a surgical procedure.
Insurers benefit from interoperability - it reduces the cost from duplication of tests as surgeons will be able to see which tests have already been performed and why.It also ensures a higher quality of care, which benefits the underwriter of the care.
Patient matching and ensuring that information flows correctly from one system to another is a challenge. But linking patient information appropriately and establishing the correct patient identity is critical for surgical success.
Global benefits of interoperability:
- Reduced number of surgical errors: According to a research from John Hopkin University, around 4,044 cases of surgical errors occur annually in the U.S. With the creation and implementation of interoperability to capture and interpret data across systems, hospitals can help better prevent errors and analyze them if they do occur.
- Increased productivity and reduced cost: A study by the West Health Institute (WHI), revealed that the use of medical device interoperability could save the U.S. healthcare system more than $30 billion a year. Caregivers spend more than 45 minutes on an average per day due to inefficient communication systems, costing approximately $1 million annually for the average U.S. hospital and another $550,000 per year in lost revenue due to increased patient discharge time.
- Improved privacy and security for patients: When hospitals do not have proper system to store patient data, privacy breaches become inevitable. But when the surgical staff input data via a secure device on an interoperable network, they can be assured that their patients’ protected health information is secure as required by the HIPAA Security Rule.
- Improved patient experiences: Patients are required to do the cumbersome tasks like filling out forms, re-explaining medical history and sorting out insurance - making a patient’s experience redundant and inefficient. Also, there is a lack of coordination among the multiple providers who may be providing care for a patient, with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, pointing out that only 46 percent of hospitals had electronic access at the point of care to the patient information . However with interoperable systems, hospitals will be able to streamline the process and give patients improved and coordinated treatment.
Hospitals understand that the time has come to anchor surgical success on having access to the most complete information possible. Interoperability makes surgery more efficient, from avoiding orders for redundant patient tests to helping surgeons communicate quickly with peers. The use of interoperable hospital IT systems will eventually lead to better patient care, patient safety and enhanced experiences. Given that most of the hospital IT systems are now-a-days connected with one another over wired and wireless networks, it has become important to stay on top of interoperability developments in government and industry.