Communication in any relationship, or partnership, is key. Whether it’s personal or business related, failures in effective communication create issues that can be difficult to overcome. Humans aren’t the only ones that need to communicate either. Technological systems and products communicate data and information through various networks with human input and intervention on either end. And in the current midst of the data revolution, ensuring this data and information is communicated fluently is vital. Especially given the nature of patient information. This is where interoperability enters the chat. Defined as the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information, achieving interoperability will allow the healthcare industry to make use of the information and data shared across vast networks and populations. Interoperability isn’t just a hot-new medical buzzword, the life of patient-centric care and digital health depends on it!
You would think with how well connected the planet is, interoperability in healthcare would be in a golden age. It isn’t. If anything, we’re still in the dark age as there are so many developments needed to fully realise the potential of connected data. One challenge comes about because of decades worth of focus on developing closed platforms designed to retain market share. Dismantling that closed business thinking has been a slow process with limited capacity.
The primary focus of interoperability has been centered around electronic health record (EHR) systems because they aim to provide both patients and their providers access to all of their healthcare data. This is essential in instances where patients visit various specialists along their care journey after starting with a visit to their primary care physician. Quality care is reliant on the ability to share data between providers, for both the time and cost efficiencies it generates as well as continuity of care.
Historically poor cooperation between these providers has led to the current state of a lack of functioning interoperability. EHRs were built as standalone silos of data, each with its own unique design and keeper. Only recently have governments and healthcare advocacy organisations pushed hard to get these silos to communicate with each other for the good of patients. But actually doing so is a monumental challenge. There are so many silos!
These shortcomings have resulted in a state where data transfer has become a time-consuming activity and invited errors into the process. When healthcare information is processed incorrectly it’s costly. At minimum, these errors are financially costly and at worst can cost lives.
The desired state of interoperability is one that benefits both the patients and those treating them, with an ability to share information seamlessly and painlessly. EHR systems from various providers will be effectively communicating, ensuring data is collectively shared and able to be accessed by those who require it. Achieving this would mean care is more coordinated and the cost of care would significantly decline while patient outcomes improved. All wins!
But how can this be achieved? The first step in achieving true interoperability relies on everyone being aligned with their communication efforts. While this step is a daunting one for some organisations as they battle implementation challenges, like costs and training, being able to access, share, and read data is advantageous for all parties involved. Patients will feel more like valued customers, and providers are able to free up valuable staff resources with the time saved.
The ideal state of interoperability is certainly not short on barriers preventing its implementation. But the upside is that it's still well within the early phases of development. Although the importance is acknowledged, public awareness is low compared to the larger innovations like artificial intelligence (AI). This leaves the door open for further exploration into what can be achieved in the field. There's a general belief that the digitalisation of medicine promises great advances for global health, with EHR systems and distributed healthcare having big roles in this. And that's where our journey continues next week as we investigate what distributed healthcare is, and how it will contribute to a new era of patient-centric care in 2022 and beyond.