Healthcare Interoperability and key considerations. Ready for the future?

Sunday, March 18, 2018
Digital Health

Interoperability is a Strategic Imperative

Transformation of the healthcare industry will depend heavily on healthcare business and clinical systems working together to share data to connect, communicate and collaborate more effectively than in the past. As the industry evolves to value-based healthcare and increased accountability, and the interplay between providers, payers, patients and consumers becomes more necessary and frequent – the need for sophisticated and pervasive interoperability rises to a strategic imperative.

Interfacing – a loosely coupled, asynchronous form of application integration, is at the heart of healthcare interoperability. Interfaces need to be properly designed, tested, versioned, deployed and supported to avoid a fragile and unreliable information environment that lacks integrity.  Healthcare providers need to look beyond conventional Health Information Exchange approaches.

For instance, the Real-Time Health Systems (RTHS), Gartner’s operational and technology framework for the next generation healthcare provider, will require sophisticated interoperability to acquire and disseminate the operational intelligence necessary for real-time, adaptive decision making. As well, new, more comprehensive and detailed views of the patient context – collected from systems and devices across all care venues and the home, and through virtual care and the Internet of Things will require world-class operability.

Starting to prepare for the future begins with an interoperability strategy and architecture, and identifying functional gaps and opportunities for modernization.

Patient Health Information is a currency

There is no shortage of interoperability standards development organizations and initiatives and information exchange networks. The interoperability problem is less of a technical problem than one born of a lack of commitment and cooperation among industry players and their natural reluctance to do things that may not be in their best interests, such as sharing patient information with competitors. The industry will have to address the paradox of investing in and promoting interoperability for its benefits, while restricting information sharing.

Patient health information is the common currency of the healthcare industry. The street value of the protected health information (PHI) contained in patient health information is considerable – however, its enterprise value has become priceless. Healthcare providers and vendors have come to realize that patient health information is the engine driving big data and analytics, and is critical to the success of value-based care and population health management.

Key Findings & Recommendations

While semantic challenges will persist, existing interoperability standards and networks are sufficient for exchanging high-fidelity patient information. As healthcare providers evolve to real-time health systems, CIOs should prepare for more-sophisticated health information exchange.

Key Findings:

  • While interfacing, integration and interoperability are not the same, the technologies and standards used to achieve them are often the same
  • The API will supplement conventional interfacing and interoperability approaches to provide the agility and timelessness required to support new care models, operational workflows and health information exchange requirements
  • Interoperability networks, based on industry HIE standards, trust frameworks and organizational alliances, are the most practical vehicles for promoting healthcare interoperability
  • Semantic interoperability issues will persist for years to come. The consistent semantics of shared health information will surface as the next big “interoperability problem”
  • he healthcare industry’s abiding need for interoperability will be a powerful drive for the eventual adoption of a national patient identifier


Healthcare provider CIOs implementing and managing EHRs, telemedicine and other care delivery IT:

  • Participate in an HIE network that takes advantage of existing interoperability standards, trust frameworks and industry alliances
  •  Perform rigorous and continuous testing against industry interoperability standards, driven by common and exceptional use cases, to ensure safe and reliable interoperability
  • Use APIs when industry interoperability standards and networks fall short of HIE requirements

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Edited by Hilda Folkerts, based on the research ‘An overview of Healthcare Interoperability and key considerations for upcoming challenges’, by Barry Runyon, published February 15th, 2018

Interoperability is a Strategic Imperative