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Why is interoperability important in healthcare IT?

Interoperability is an aspect of healthcare information technology that underlies all initiatives for coordinated healthcare across communities through clinical archiving.

While meaningful use, electronic medical records and hospital compliance are the key issues discussed in the health care information exchange that represents modern health care reform, Jeff Rowe, an editor at Future Care, and others argue that attention needs to shift toward something that underlies all of those initiatives and largely predicts their success: interoperability.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability in healthcare is the extent to which various systems and devices can not only exchange data, but interpret that data and display it in a user-friendly way. Practically speaking, this means that data exchange methods will allow data to be shared across hospitals, pharmacies, labs, clinicians and patients, regardless of which vendor is used.

According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), interoperability of healthcare IT should work on three levels to advance healthcare for individuals and communities, including:

  1. Foundational interoperability: Data, such as clinical image files, can be exchanged from one IT system to another. 
  2. Structural interoperability: The exchange of data from one system to the next can be interpreted at the data field level - it is preserved or unaltered. Ideally, this would create a uniform movement of healthcare data that remains unchanged in its operational and clinical forms.
  3. Semantic interoperability: This process would make codified data clear because systems would use the same vocabulary and there would be no discrepancies between EMRs.

Why is interoperability important?

On February 6, 2014, West Health Institute and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) hosted Health Care Innovation Day (HCI) in D.C. Interoperability was a major focus, and it was there that West Health introduced the report Igniting an Interoperable Healthcare System, outlining various benefits of and ways of accomplishing interoperability. It's main point was that interoperability is needed to reform the chaotic and at times dysfunctional nature of how information is shared among hospitals.

Additionally, the report points out that unlike financial accounts and email, accessing your medical record cannot be done from virtually anywhere in the world. It's time for the healthcare system to catch up, but to do so in an organized way that prioritizes interoperability so that costly EMRs and other healthcare IT can communicate in a seamless way to the benefit of hospitals and patients alike.

VNAs and interoperability

Not all vendors are interested in making a product that is interoperable with others. But TeraMedica's vendor neutral archive can level the playing field by providing a neutral platform. For example, if the radiology department at a hospital uses one EMR system for its clinical image files and the psychology department uses another for its archiving, these systems don't readily communicate. However, TeraMedica's VNA solution can offer the link between the two systems for increased interoperability.


News brought to you by TeraMedica, Inc., leaders in healthcare enterprise imaging (VNA) solutions.