How is Interoperability Valuable for Population Health Analytics?

By CIOReview | Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Healthcare providers, today, are making headway in their shift towards coordinated value-based care, a prime requisite for which is interoperability. Interoperability is the basic capability of automated systems to communicate with one another, regardless of who developed them or which industry they cater to. Within the healthcare sector, interoperability is a key aspect that lies at the root of all initiatives taken for coordinated healthcare across populations through clinical archiving.

Any organization that seeks to achieve better yet cost-effective health outcomes for a defined population must share its clinical data among providers. This ensures that all care providers are aware of what treatment a patient is receiving and that nothing goes amiss from a quality of care and patient safety perspective. At this juncture, interoperability comes into play through different systems can not only exchange information but also translate that information and present it to users in a comprehensive manner. To put it succinctly, data exchange techniques based on interoperability allow information to be circulated across pharmacies, hospitals, laboratories, nursing homes, clinicians as well as patients irrespective of the vendor.

As per various recent surveys, interoperability should work on three levels to improve healthcare for individuals and communities which are stated below:

Foundational Interoperability: Visual data, such as clinical image files can be transferred from one IT system to another.

Structural Interoperability: The exchange of data from one system to the next can be deduced at the data field level—where it remains untouched and sealed. Ideally, this will generate a consistent flow of healthcare data that remains unaltered in its operational and clinical states.  

Semantic Interoperability: At this level, codified data will be disentangled to make good sense as systems will continue to use the same vocabulary and hence, there will be scarcely any discrepancy between electronic medical records (EMRs).

On the whole, interoperability turns out to be a necessary means to reform the unsystematic and at times dysfunctional nature of how information is communicated among healthcare organizations. It must be noted that medical records, unlike financial accounts or emails, cannot be accessed from virtually anywhere in the globe. It is high time healthcare systems catch up, but in a way that is structured and prioritizes on interoperability. That being so, high-priced EMRs and other forms of healthcare documents can interface seamlessly for the greater benefit of patients and hospitals alike.

Creating interoperability is not a simple task. For interoperability to come about and for care providers to be able to gain a comprehensive view of their patients’ medical history without signing in and out of a cluster of different EHRs, the data needs to be in a single, accessible place. This will alleviate the task of scouring data in various sources like lab reports and EHRs and instead doctors or caregivers can go back to that one folder and acquire whichever data they are looking for. Apart from EHRs, information also rolls out from administrative data, for instance, medical claims and other fragments of information that are available in silos but not essentially conjoined.

On the contrary, if a doctor is unable to access all the information regarding what a patient has been through it is quite obvious that he/she will not have access to any their patients’ health records. In consequence, the doctor will naturally fail to carry out a population health analysis. As an alternative, doctors today can resort to Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIRs) whereby they can leverage a range of diverse applications—served via a dashboard or mobile—for garnering the required set of data.