The Benefits and Challenges of Healthcare Interoperability

Sharon Muniz
June 7, 2019
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The Benefits and Challenges of Healthcare Interoperability

How do you know if you can trust the healthcare system? Interoperability is the communication between medical centers and organizations that will potentially allow you to do so. The benefits of interoperability are simple: accountable healthcare, streamlined efficiency, and more accessible information. However, the challenges of healthcare interoperability, however, aren’t just technical. Often times, these challenges are social, political, and economic. 

What is Healthcare Interoperability?

Simply put, healthcare interoperability is a means to communicate between healthcare centers so that patient information is readily accessible and accurate. However, it is more complex than this.

Interoperability is the ability for two or more systems to exchange and interpret the information exchanged. There are three main types of healthcare interoperability. 

  • Foundational Interoperability- A basic form of interoperability which allows one system to exchange data, but not interpret it. 
  • Structural Interoperability-Data can be exchanged and interpreted at a base level but the clinical or operational purpose of the data is concealed. 
  • Semantic Interoperability- The highest form of interoperability. Two or more systems can exchange information.  Full information on the patient is usable and interpretable. 

Political Obstacles of Healthcare Interoperability

In 2015, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a report to Congress on healthcare information blocking.  The report stated that healthcare providers and IT developers use of technology was a conflict of national interest.

In 2016, President Obama signed the MACRA (The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act). It aims to establish culpability among healthcare providers and incentivize better healthcare procedures. 

Healthcare interoperability is integral in the quest for streamlined ethical healthcare. There are some, however, who are concerned with security issues. With technology, comes technical difficulties. 

That being said, there are many technological solutions in progress to ensure the safety of your medical information.  

Technical Obstacles of Healthcare Interoperability

Although this should seem obvious, you are not usually worrying about sensitive information such as healthcare records every day. You’re usually worrying about other aspects of life. 

There’s still a trust issue surrounding interoperability and this lack of trust is because there isn’t a specific standard for record sharing. Data is still be transferred with incompatible fonts, proprietary fields, and external data fields. If data can’t be transferred correctly, what’s the point in transferring it at all? 

The good news is, there’s plenty of systems making it easier to sanitize data and make it compatible across systems. Similarly, there’s no standard way of dealing with errors across systems. So providers are having a tough time dealing with technical issues that vary from system to system. 

The technical issues facing interoperability are a bit of a paradox. Most of them could be solved by improving interoperability. However, that’s easier said than done.

Healthcare Interoperability is Still the Wave of the Future  

Healthcare interoperability is here to stay and the exchange of data will become more accurate over time. Improved healthcare and more liberty in choosing which healthcare provider is best for your current situation is just a small part of the discussion of interoperability. Trust is the main thing that stands in the way. 

Since so many people feel slighted by the healthcare system, it’s natural for them to want security. Interoperability symbolizes the security healthcare organizations can provide.  

Check out these other informative blogs on technology!


About the Author

Sharon Muniz

Sharon Muniz established her software development consulting firm in Reston, VA after 15 years of working in the software industry. NCN Technology helps clients implement best practices and software to drive their business to success. Ms. Muniz is skilled at strategic planning, business process management, technology evaluation, project and agile software development methodologies.

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