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A Guide for Healthcare Data Interoperability

Mariam Anwar

Product Marketer

February 23rd, 2024

The critical importance of healthcare data interoperability cannot be stressed enough. It plays a significant role in streamlining care coordination and minimizing medical errors. Without healthcare interoperability, healthcare providers may not have access to a patient’s complete medical history, leading to inaccurate diagnoses.

There are many instances of dangerous medical errors due to a lack of healthcare data interoperability. In 2008, a patient in Utah died from chest pains due to inaccessibility to the information stored in EHR system of their previous healthcare provider. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid a $9 million settlement due to a veteran’s death caused by a lack of interoperability between Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems.

These are just some of the many cases that highlight the importance of breaking down data silos to ensure seamless communication and improve patient outcomes.

In this blog, we’ll explore the significance of data interoperability in healthcare, examine the challenges that stand in the way, and provide strategies for achieving successful healthcare data interoperability.

Data Sharing in Healthcare

The current healthcare system is plagued by siloed and fragmented patient information, leading to inefficiencies in care delivery. Healthcare data sharing and exchange is crucial in overcoming these limitations, allowing providers to access complete and up-to-date patient information.

Healthcare interoperability, as defined by HIMSS, is the ability of different healthcare systems, devices, and applications to access, exchange, integrate, and use data seamlessly. This interoperability allows patient health information can be shared easily and securely among healthcare providers.

Health Information Exchange

Healthcare Interoperability Standards

Since health data is largely unstructured, inconsistent, and scattered, uniformity in the information exchange process is imperative for seamless data exchange. Therefore, healthcare interoperability standards were introduced.

These standards define the protocols, data formats, and content required for secure and accurate data exchange. Establishing common standards help address data silos that hinder the delivery of efficient and effective care.

Two of the most widely adopted interoperability standards in the healthcare industry are HL7 and FHIR.

Health Level Seven (HL7) Standard

  • HL7 is a set of international healthcare data exchange standards. These standards are widely adopted and provide a common framework for the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information between disparate systems.
  • HL7 standards specify the data types, codes, and terminologies that must be used to ensure consistent and accurate information exchange. This standardization enables healthcare providers to share and access patient information in a secure and efficient manner.
  • Adherence to the HL7 standards provides a foundation for innovation, allowing the development of new technologies and solutions to advance the healthcare system.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Standard

  • FHIR is a modern and flexible data exchange standard developed by HL7 International to help healthcare organizations exchange and integrate health information securely and efficiently.
  • FHIR provides a flexible and modular approach to exchanging healthcare data. It supports various use cases, including clinical care, administrative, and financial transactions.
  • The popularity of FHIR is largely due to its ease of use and ability to integrate with existing systems and workflows. The standard is based on modern web standards, which makes it simple to implement and integrate with EHRs and other healthcare systems, thereby improving EHR interoperability and operational efficiency.

Challenges hindering healthcare data interoperability

Challenges of Interoperability in Healthcare

Despite the numerous benefits of healthcare data interoperability, such as improved patient care, reduced costs, and increased efficiency, organizations still face several barriers that prevent them from fully realizing these benefits. Some of the healthcare interoperability challenges include:

  1. Lack of Coordination

The challenge of coordinating data exchange between healthcare organizations stems from the lack of uniform systems, standards and protocols for information exchange. Despite introducing standards like HL7 and FHIR, inconsistent implementation and resistance to change have hindered healthcare data interoperability.

Authorities must take a proactive approach to resolve this issue and ensure the adoption of these standards. This can be achieved through providing education and training to healthcare organizations, encouraging partnerships, and fostering open communication to promote collaboration.

  1. Budget Constraints

Enterprises lack the funds to update their legacy systems and invest in interoperable solutions. Purchase of new hardware and software, integrating new systems with existing ones, and staff training on how to use these systems effectively substantially adds to the cost. Furthermore, ongoing maintenance and upgrades of interoperability systems can also increase the financial burden of many healthcare organizations.

To overcome this challenge, enterprises can seek funding from government agencies or private sector partners. Additionally, incorporating health information technology (HIT) and investing in no-code/low-code solutions that unify information on a single platform can reduce the need for extensive staff training, making it a cost-effective solution.

  1. Privacy and Security

Another challenge is that patient health information is highly sensitive and confidential. Exchanging data across different healthcare organizations and systems increases the risk of data theft, hacking, and cyberattacks. Sharing data efficiently to get a patient-360 view while keeping the information safe and secure is a rising concern of healthcare providers.

To ensure data privacy and security and address EHR interoperability challenges, enterprises should implement robust security measures such as authentication, access-based controls, and encryption. Moreover, they must also comply with regulations, such as HIPAA and GDPR, that govern the protection of personal health information.

Importance of healthcare data interoperability for stakeholders

Significance of Healthcare Data Interoperability for Stakeholders

Along with the challenges mentioned above, the various stakeholders involved in the process also add to the complexity of healthcare information sharing, thereby emphasizing the importance of interoperability in healthcare.

Let’s look at the unique requirements of each of the stakeholder groups below:

  1. Patients: Interoperability in healthcare allows for seamless coordination among different healthcare providers within the patient’s circle of care, improving the chances of accurate diagnoses, timely treatments, and better outcomes. With a clear picture of their health history, patients can take a more active role in their care.
  2. Healthcare Providers: By allowing seamless access to patients’ health information, interoperability enables healthcare providers to enhance the speed and efficiency of care delivery, reduce duplicative testing, minimize medical errors, and improve patient outcomes.
  3. Pharmacists: With access to critical patient data elements, like past treatments, drug allergies, and medication history, pharmacists can streamline the prescription and refill process leading to improved efficiency and enhanced care coordination for patients.
  4. Insurers: Seamless health information exchange enables insurers to make informed decisions about patient coverage and benefits. Improved data access leads to reduced costs and faster claims processing.
  5. Government Agencies: Access to complete health records can provide valuable insights for public health surveillance, research, and policy development. Moreover, improved data accessibility can help government agencies in quality monitoring and fraud detection.

Interoperability binds the various stakeholders in the health ecosystem, fostering collaboration across the circle of care and ensuring a more efficient and effective healthcare system for everyone.

How to achieve interoperability in healthcare

Measures to Achieve Interoperability

Healthcare data interoperability caters to various use cases and user groups. It’s essential to take proactive measures to achieve interoperability and pave the way for better health outcomes and improved patient experiences.

Here are some robust measures that can be implemented:

  • Leverage the cloud to break down silos

Cloud-based solutions can play a big role in breaking down data silos. These solutions offer scalability, flexibility, and agility, making it easy to store and manage large amounts of structured and unstructured data. With cloud technology, barriers to accessibility are removed, providing stakeholders with access to all the information they need to enhance patient care. Healthcare organizations prefer a cloud provider that offers FHIR services to ensure data consistency.

  • Assess your current requirements for a well-planned approach

For successful healthcare interoperability, understanding the data requirements and needs of stakeholders is highly important. This includes identifying any gaps in data collection and exchange and being familiar with the type of different data and protocols. Gaining a comprehensive understanding facilitates the implementation of interoperability solutions in healthcare organizations that support real-time information exchange and effective data-sharing techniques such as point-to-point connections.

  • Adopt a Standardized Terminology to ensure consistency

Standardizing healthcare messaging, structure, content, and format is crucial for seamless data exchange between different systems. Adopting standardized terminology such as “The Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine – Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT) not only ensures accurate interpretation of health data but also empowers patients and care providers with a universal language. By representing clinical information through codes, you can efficiently share and utilize data for collaborative purposes, driving advancements in healthcare through data-driven research.

  • Adopt an API-first approach to improve efficiency

APIs are quickly becoming a go-to option for achieving healthcare interoperability as they enable applications and software to communicate with each other seamlessly. APIs allow secure information sharing; they are reusable, and you can quickly compose them into new products and services.

APIs are being increasingly used as a cost-efficient route to EHR optimization as they allow EHR vendors to stay up to date with changes in policies and guidelines. Healthcare organizations are also opting for APIs to comply with CMS Interoperability and Patient Access.

Ensure Seamless Data Exchange with Astera Centerprise

Astera Centerprise is an end-to-end data integration solution that allows you to unify your clinical data in a single platform. Using our drag-and-drop interface, you can perform complex transformations without writing a single line of code, eliminating manual coding, which can be very time-consuming.

Additionally, you can communicate test results, patient information, and other medical data in a standardized manner using Centerprise’s EDI Connect feature, which provides users with access to a pre-loaded library of HIPAA-compliant messages.

With its pre-built connectors, Astera Centerprise offers connectivity to multiple file formats, such as COBOL and HANA, as well as different sources, including XML-based health records, CRM-based patient information, and more.

Moreover, Astera Centerprise provides native connectivity to various cloud providers, such as Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure. This connectivity allows you to harness the power of the cloud to supercharge your reporting and analytics. With enhanced security protocols, including access-based controls and encryption, sensitive patient health information remains safe and confidential.

Furthermore, Astera Centerprise has data orchestration and scheduling capabilities, ensuring that any newly acquired health information is cleansed, transformed, and validated before consumption. Using trusted insights, you can improve patient outcomes and enhance the overall patient experience. Download our 14-day free trial to ensure seamless data exchange and efficient healthcare delivery.

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