Health IT Interoperability Requires Industry Collaboration

For data and systems interoperability to become widespread, both government and private stakeholders must clear roadblocks.

Joyce Sensmeier, VP of Informatics, HIMSS

September 9, 2014

3 Min Read

As we approach National Health IT Week, it is a good time to take into consideration how we, as active members within our own healthcare organizations, can help forge a path that results in true healthcare interoperability.

The healthcare industry is at a critical point -- although interoperability is poised to radically transform the healthcare system, achieving it poses unique challenges and barriers to success that are problematic around the world. Will true healthcare interoperability ever happen? I think it will. But first, key industry players must collaborate -- not simply rely on our national agenda -- to achieve it.

Progress recently has been achieved at a federal level; at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's recent monthly HIT Policy Committee meeting, three-, six- and 10-year interoperability milestone plans were laid out, with the goal of achieving more efficient health information exchange, improving industry quality and lowering costs, and incorporating medical devices and patient-generated health data, both to increase automation of exchange and to scale broadly across the country.

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In the US, however, all stakeholders, including healthcare, share responsibility for driving innovation. Typically, when innovative approaches are supported and advanced, industry requires extended time to align and vendors to engage. Healthcare is extremely complex, and is built upon a long history of siloed efforts. It's time for all industry stakeholders to collectively recognize the barriers to interoperability -- whether core technical standards, certification of health IT products and services, regulations around business, clinical and cultural aspects of healthcare, or privacy and security protections -- and take charge of identifying potential solutions. This collaborative industry-wide approach will go far to minimize roadblocks, by adopting and implementing standards that advance widespread interoperability.

Within nursing, for example, efforts are underway to map the multiple nursing terminologies approved by the American Nurses Association to the nationally endorsed standards of SNOMED-CT and LOINC. While this effort is not without its challenges, nursing leaders are committed to working toward a future when the benefits of sharable, comparable data can be realized.

Once industry stakeholders collaborate to achieve true healthcare interoperability, there are significant areas that will realize immediate improvement. Specifically, there is tremendous opportunity within the mobile space; thus far the industry has achieved only basic interoperability standards to support and safeguard data exchanged via mobile devices. Yet apps are being rapidly developed -- 142 million mobile apps are expected to be downloaded by 2016 -- and industry leaders must ensure that information is safeguarded, and access to patient identification is accurate and protected. In a rapidly evolving space like mobile, it is crucial that interoperability standards are flexible and easily implementable so the deployment process is simple and remains up-to-date with mobile developments.

True healthcare interoperability will make a significant, lasting impact on the healthcare system and will bring healthcare delivery to a far more advanced level. Individuals will more consistently trust that their caregivers and clinicians have access to the information necessary to provide accurate and efficient care whether in a hospital, home health center, retail clinic, or physician's office.

Interoperability will enable a learning health system in which data is accessible and standardized, and can be exchanged and understood once received. Patients will learn from the outcomes that have been achieved for specific treatments and be able to make informed decisions based on that understanding. We are all stakeholders in advancing interoperability in healthcare, and the time is now to start working together toward that desired end state.

Has meeting regulatory requirements gone from high priority to the only priority for healthcare IT? Read Health IT Priorities: No Breathing Room, an InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue.

About the Author(s)

Joyce Sensmeier

VP of Informatics, HIMSS

Joyce Sensmeier is Vice President of Informatics for HIMSS, a global, cause-based, not-for-profit organization focused on better health through information technology. Sensmeier joined HIMSS as the Director of Professional Services in 2000. In her current role, she oversees clinical informatics, standards and interoperability. Sensmeier earned a BSN from Elmhurst College and a master's degree in Nursing Administration from St. Xavier University, both in Illinois. 

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