As technology advances, the healthcare industry continues to undergo massive changes. With patient data now being almost exclusively digital in modern hospitals, medical clinics and other healthcare establishments, keeping track of sensitive information can become daunting. In order to improve patient care, medical facilities need to focus on bridging the gap between patients and healthcare professionals.
Moreover, health systems need the necessary infrastructure to be able to communicate between devices and establish seamless connectivity that can maximize patient data sharing and transfer. Patient records are usually spread across multiple healthcare specialists, clinics and providers, so a reliable “digital bridge” to connect everything is crucial—and this is where interoperability comes in.
What exactly is interoperability and how does it benefit the healthcare industry?
Interoperability refers to the capability of multiple systems or digital devices and components to connect, communicate, and exchange information and data. Interoperability ensures the smooth synchronization of all devices and data in a coordinated matter, breaking regional and national barriers through connectivity.
In the healthcare industry, this type of connectivity is key when trying to form a connection locally between devices, or across organizations, healthcare facilities, retail clinics, pharmacies and providers. Furthermore, interoperability is possible even between medical devices that were developed by different manufacturers or vendors.
With so many hospitals going digital in the past decade, it’s becoming harder to keep track of patient data. Interoperability can also facilitate the seamless and secure sharing of patient data that’s spread across multiple care centers or pharmacies. Depending on the size of the hospital or clinic, usually millions of health records are exchanged electronically by health personnel in a span of just six months.
Having the capability to share information between health staff, retailers, systems, apps and databases is crucial in the medical environment, and improving interoperability is key when it comes to streamlining connectivity.
The four levels of interoperability
There are four distinct levels of interoperability in healthcare, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a global advisor supporting the transformation of the medical ecosystem through information and technology. They proposed a revised definition for interoperability in healthcare in 2020, which also included operational data exchange.
According to the HIMSS, the four levels of interoperability are:
- Foundational interoperability
- Structural interoperability
- Semantic interoperability
- Organizational interoperability
Think of the levels of interoperability as a pyramid, with foundational interoperability as the base of the structure.
Layer 1: Foundational interoperability
The first level of interoperability stands for ensuring and establishing the connectivity requirements needed for a system, device or app to securely transfer data. Foundational interoperability offers the most basic of data exchange and communication services.
Layer 2: Structural interoperability
Also known as syntactic or technical interoperability, this level defines the format and syntax of the data exchange that takes place between systems. With this layer, we have guidance on how messages should be structured.
Layer 3: Semantic interoperability
This layer of interoperability allows systems to exchange and use transmitted information. Semantic interoperability is critical for bridging the gap between healthcare IT systems and data sources.
Layer 4: Organizational interoperability
This last level enables shared consent and trust within and between organizations for data use. Organizational interoperability includes a wide pool of considerations to facilitate secure communication between parties involved.
What are the benefits of interoperability in healthcare?
We already covered what is interoperability and its different layers, so it’s time to see a couple of its specific benefits when it comes to healthcare.
1. Better patient care
Better services always translate to better patient care. With access to key data and information at all times, doctors can improve the diagnostic process, and make better decisions when it comes to treating their patients.
2. Increased productivity
With better connectivity and easier access to patient data, a spike in productivity is to be expected. Interoperability allows physicians and healthcare professionals to share information in a highly organized way, streamlining processes and procedures.
3. Lower costs
If there’s a spike in productivity, there’s almost always a dip in costs. Securely connected systems with up-to-date information minimize errors and delays, and digitization promotes a paperless business model.
4. Improved security
Connected systems and paperless cabinets reduce the chances of patient files going missing or being tampered with. With everything being stored safely in clouds, the loss of crucial data and information drops significantly.
5. Overall better public health data
Health data exchange is one of the most important factors in medicine. The best way to get ahead of diseases and figure out cures or treatments is to study patterns and illnesses in patients.
At SMEDIX, we’re a team of passionate healthcare and tech professionals who strive to improve both the lives of patients with our products, as well as the lives of physicians. If you’re looking for solutions to connect your systems and devices, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
We are always focused on innovation, and we use resourceful techniques and strategies to bring you the best products possible. Our mission is to accelerate innovation in healthcare through genuine partnerships and create custom and high-quality products to improve lives.