How to Meet the Challenges of Healthcare Interoperability

By Ken Stoll
April 1, 2022

As healthcare leaders and institutions rely more on evolving technology across all levels of service, the need for interoperability is critical. Interoperability allows different information systems, devices, and applications to access, exchange, and integrate data in a coordinated manner and encompasses not only data exchange, but also cybersecurity and even call-center efficiency. Interoperability offers a means for healthcare systems to use data across regional and national boundaries, thereby providing a seamless, timely transfer of information to optimize the health of individuals worldwide.

Managing Interoperability within healthcare organizations is a challenge because most are resistant to sharing data. Healthcare IT Today interviewed several leaders of healthcare information technology companies on their predictions for healthcare interoperability in 2022.

Dr. Stephen Powell, CEO at Synensys, LLC, offered the opinion that the future of interoperability will become increasingly dependent on the quality and accessibility of health data, but also the agility and integrity of the data being transferred and managed. As he put it in the article:

“Better data-quality measuring and monitoring  systems will be needed in the future, especially with the increasing use of Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) and increasing data migrations between electronic health records (EHRs).”

In that same piece Adnan Qadir, strategy officer at Surescripts, offered some specific steps for advancing interoperability within the healthcare arena:

  • Health plans, ACOs, and provider networks will be the focal point for the healthcare industry because of their concerted effort to have real-time access to clinical data.
  • Standards and national networks will expand in their existing spaces and push into new areas of the market including post-acute, behavioral, and social care. In addition, these networks will continue to evolve past the traditional use cases and vendors and provide opportunities for many to participate in innovative health information exchange models.
  • Large and small providers alike will continue to focus on manual processes that failed early on during COVID-19 and prevented healthcare automation from moving forward. Staffing, remote workers, and telehealth have forced healthcare to fix what doesn’t work.
  • Fast healthcare interoperability resources (FHIR) will continue to gain momentum, but still largely be part of the future as other existing, mature, and adopted standards for health information exchange maximize their value. 

And Eric Rosow, CEO at Diameter Health, maintains that data interoperability will be a top priority in 2022, and that as the market recognizes the potential of complete and timely clinical data to help provide insights into the healthcare market it will be crucial for data exchanges within the sector to be “as seamless as our daily digital experiences.” 

Moreover, he added that the exchange of “clean, clear and precise clinical data” has never been more important than at present, as it will lead to greater efficiency, improved outcomes and “accelerate the industry’s goal of data liquidity.”

In an article in HealthAffairs, Micky Tripathi, national coordinator for Health Information Technology, a staff division of the Office of the Secretary (ONC) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asserted that key provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act  will help transform healthcare interoperability in 2022. He noted that more than 90 percent of hospitals and physician practices now use EHRs; widespread acceptance of this technology is just the first step in delivering on the promise of a modern digital healthcare system.

Tripathi went on to say that process changes often take time in an industry that is “deeply imbued with workflows and mindsets born of a paper-based world,” and believes that the sooner reform comes about, the better, as it will enhance “healthcare quality, safety, efficiency, affordability, and equity.”

According to Tripathi, the ONC will continue to implement and enforce information-blocking regulations to promote the exchange of electronic health data across the care continuum. As he put it:

“Expanding the aperture of interoperability to include as much electronic information as possible will provide richer information to inform patient care and reduce the burden on patients of having to manually gather and lug reams of paper records from provider to provider. It will also open new horizons for modernization across the entire healthcare continuum.”

Finally, Tripathi noted that the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA), the goal of which is to establish a nationwide universal standard for interoperability across the country, will create a national policy and infrastructure background to ease data exchange across networks of EHRs and other healthcare IT systems.

In an article published by PubMed Central (PMC) journal at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, it was noted that interoperable health data can help to realize the full potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data as well as improve the communication of medical information and make medical research more efficient. Efforts to improve interoperability offer major dividends, including the development of international standards and medical terminologies that can pave the way for an interconnected digital health infrastructure on a worldwide basis.

Russ Johannesson, CEO of diabetes and chronic condition management company Glooko, told MobiHealthNews that spurred by the pandemic, digital health technology, and remote care grew by leaps and bounds in 2021 and is poised to do the same in 2022. Not only was both patient and provider adoption of digital healthcare robust, but it also increased reimbursement options from private and public sectors, which encouraged investors. In 2022, data sharing is the key to making digital tools more valuable, according to Joannesson, but it will also help them leverage AI and machine learning and improve communication between healthcare providers and patients.

“The need for both standards and interoperability to be able to share that data effectively and easily is just critically important,” he said. “And that will really fuel the value proposition under a lot of the digital health solutions.” 

The push toward interoperability will be an essential trend in 2022, as data sharing is critical to making digital tools more valuable. It will also help them leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as improve communication between providers and patients.