Posted on behalf of James Proctor, Integration Services Manager 
Interoperability can be defined as the idea of achieving broad access to common information across an uncommon landscape, between disparate partners. When we think about what has been accomplished in Healthcare, and Healthcare IT, over just the last 10 years, the sweeping changes and regulations have giving rise to a host of new technologies and methodologies that allow us to partner and data share more than ever before. There is a famous quote by Michael J. Fox, which is probably best paraphrased stating that if you have one foot in the future, and one foot in the past, you neglect the present. It is this mentality that brings to light that our constant drive forward can be a risky one if we don’t take a moment to assess what the true goals of what better connected, quality healthcare for patients really means. In that vein, we will be discussing what should be, perhaps not the only, but five of the strongest goals with any project in the realm of Interoperability.

1. Enable Greater Efficiency

Healthcare has always been balancing on a razor’s edge between greater precision and faster response times. Nowhere is this better represented than in the realm of HIT where the access to information is of paramount importance. Real-time data, highly-available in a scalable, tethered and untethered state is our mission statement. How do we enable that though? This is truly one of the most important pieces of the Interoperability puzzle and a driving cornerstone for all that we should achieve. One clear answer to this has always been connecting systems together, to share information electronically. Engaging Vital Sign monitors to deliver data directly to a patient’s assessment while simultaneously feeding patient demographic data to that Vital Sign Monitor is a scenario that plays across hospitals worldwide, this very moment. This simple, but complex to understand process, enables Nurses to get back to other vital functions of their job without having to take routine measurements and transcribe them.

2. Patient Engagement

Interoperability has some far greater reaching affects as well. When one considers the goal of these initiatives, ultimately healthcare is about driving better outcomes for patients, but also empowering patients with the information and insights to take an active role in their own care. For the better part of a decade now, we have been steadily moving down the road of Meaningful Use. Despite any controversies, the goal of these measures has always been aimed at improving care and improving access to the information for patients. Some of these measures deal directly with payments being given for the implementation and adoption of a patient portal through standard reporting interfaces. What appears on the surface as a routine ITI Suite implementation is pushing that information directly into the hands of patients who otherwise might not give their health very much thought. Educating the public on their own health in hours, where we used to wait weeks for a mailed letter to arrive, improves the health of our population dramatically.

3. Reduce Error

A good example of how error reduction can be achieved is through the Computerized Physician Order Entry initiative, whereby providers are now able to generate orders electronically. This drastically reduces the errors surrounding misspellings, unintentional and unverified orders. Typical issues with handwritten scrips are all but eliminated, and with order verification built into EHR vendor technology, missing required items in test batteries are likewise minimized. The process of ensuring the correct patient receives orders when they arrive at a hospital, facility, or other critical access treatment center is vital to a healthy population.

4. Enable Clinical and Provider Decision Support

Clinical Decision Support is at its best when data is relevant, prevalent, and qualitative. Interoperability and CDS go hand in hand by cross-enabling each other in a functional way. As we continue to integrate disparate systems, or connect across boundaries, — physical, socioeconomic or geopolitical — that data lends itself to transforming the healthcare landscape. Nowhere better can that be seen that by providing data directly back into the accompanying systems that are generating it. In the same fashion, federating data across networks, securely, provides the same benefits when we consider the numerous initiatives surrounding the IHE Standards and adoption programs. That same data the leaves one system to provide immunization data at the state level, can come back to us in a timely way to provide a better view of a patient’s history, and specifically recent history. The scope of how what that data can do for us, and specifically for our Providers, is limitless

5. Return on Investment

One of the strongest drivers for Interoperability, is the need to recoup a portion or all the cost of implementing a technology. You have invested in said technology, now we need to get the full value out of that technology and even get a positive net income out of it. When one considered the concept of an Interface Engine, you can immediately chart the multi-department cost savings through interface maintenance, manual data entry requirements, and staffing. As these technologies continue to mature, they provide benefits from the clinical standpoint, but from the financial as well. Consider a first party interface between two systems, which may cost $10,000 initially, plus annually for maintenance. A single FTE, over the course of just a few years and by building off that same initial investment, can recoup the cost of an integration engine of $100,000 dollars with funds to spare.
These facets are strong proponents for the concept and practice of interoperability, and it is important that we as an industry continue to drive towards the overall goal of connected healthcare. A future where patients and providers alike share the same information, the same goals, and have reasonable expectations of their care and treatment. Technology can continue to make that a reality, with Interoperability being the foundation. When we reach that, there is a direct benefit to healthcare providers and patients alike, directly or indirectly, which after all, is why we are all in the healthcare industry to begin with.