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Breaking through the Noise: What is Interoperability in Healthcare?

By , DO, Former Medical Director of Transcend Insights
Interoperability
What is Interoperability in Healthcare?
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Infographic Interoperability in Healthcare

What is Interoperability?

With all the talk lately about interoperable health systems and their importance to success in value-based care, it may help to spell out what “interoperability” truly means. Is there one definition of interoperability that industry stakeholders have all agreed to use?

The answer, as with many situations in healthcare, is probably more complicated than it needs to be, but a good place to start is a definition provided by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering, which is also supported by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology:

Interoperability is “the ability of systems to exchange and use electronic health information from other systems without special effort on the part of the user.” With interoperability, electronic health information can “follow a patient where and when it is needed, across organizational, health IT developer and geographic boundaries.”

Another commonly referenced definition of interoperability comes from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a nonprofit organization focused on better health through IT. According to HIMSS, interoperability is:

“The ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged.” Health information systems that are interoperable “work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to advance the effective delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities.”

It is a lot to digest, but what it all comes down to is this: Interoperability in healthcare is about making sure that the right electronic health information is available to the right people at the right time. It is ensuring that the electronic health record (EHR) system used by one healthcare organization can easily “talk” to the EHRs in other organizations that may stem from disparate and competing EHR vendors. Lastly, interoperability is about outcomes. The information that is exchanged between interoperable systems must be made accessible to clinical care teams so it can be leveraged to provide a more coordinated approach to care.

Now that it is clear what interoperability in healthcare is, learn about why it is important – “Breaking through the Noise: Why is Interoperability in Healthcare Important?