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Interoperability & Its Importance in Healthcare

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Srinivas Prasad, CEO, Philips Innovation Campus

Srinivas Prasad, CEO, Philips Innovation Campus

With the high penetration of technology, the world is getting smarter and flatter. This has an impact on us in all the spheres of life. With this growing technological diffusion, it is important for devices and systems to be able to talk to each other and exchange data in a way it can be interpreted and understood and this process is called interoperability. There are several industries where interoperability has matured to a great extent. Take for example the telecom industry where we can make calls seamlessly from phones of different manufacturers. Another example is in the financial services industry, we can make seamless financial transactions whether it is drawing cash from an ATM or transferring money electronically etc. The healthcare sector too needs similar interoperable solutions, to make healthcare affordable and accessible for all.

Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) defines interoperability as extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data. For two systems to be interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data such that it can be understood by a user.

The importance of Interoperability’s in the healthcare industry is not understood well enough. This is the basic foundation on which all hospital products and IT systems need to be built on. Take the example - when we make a telephone call, we can make a call from phones of different manufacturers and there are many telecom exchanges from different manufacturers the call has to traverse before being connected. This would never have been possible but for the interoperability standards adhered to by the telecom companies. The same can be said for Interoperability in a healthcare context. The systems whether they are imaging products or software products (eg. PACS, EMR) or hospital information system it is imperative that they need to seamlessly be able to connect and exchange data/information and understand it. The information could be related to patient data or imaging data or any data pertaining to a hospital. This needs to traverse seamlessly at the least, across the same hospital if not across different hospitals to start with.
The advantages of ensuring that systems are interoperable in healthcare are immense:
• Speed of Care: The availability of patient data to a clinician, be it from the radiology department or EMR’s or other Hospital information systems in a timely manner can help the clinician handle more patients effectively there by becoming more productive.
• Cost of Care: Reduced manual intervention and aggregated information from multiple systems in a hospital can facilitate seamless flow of information from multiple systems within the hospital or across multiple branches of the hospital there by reducing the cost of operations and the cost of providing care.
• Accuracy of Diagnosis: Interoperable systems can help in better diagnosis. Take for example the early detection of cancer. Information from multiple sources like imaging data, pathology data and other patient data when viewed together can really help better diagnosis influencing the outcome.
• Open Sourced Care: If systems are connected and interoperable between different hospitals then this allows a patient to choose and change hospitals based on his or her choice with the assurance that his/her data can be seamlessly be moved between hospitals
• Population Health Management: Aggregation of data from multiple systems and multiple hospitals help in data analytics that can help in population health management and prevent or contain the outbreak of diseases.

HIMSS defines interoperability as extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data


Although, interoperability in healthcare is the need of the hour and can address many existing healthcare problems, it does not come without its challenges. One of the primary needs for interoperability is consistency and standardization, which means that all the entities involved have to agree to set criterias. In healthcare, standards provide a common language and set of expectations that enable interoperability between systems and/or devices. Ideally, data exchange schema and standards should permit data to be shared between clinician, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient regardless of application or vendor in order to seamlessly digest information about an individual and improve the over all coordination and delivery of healthcare.

The New Health policy approved by the cabinet earlier this year is a big step to making healthcare in India affordable and accessible. This policy proposes the setting up of health Information exchange by 2025. This will allow Private and Government hospitals to hook onto this infrastructure and share information as required. For this to happen it is important that there is appropriate interoperable standards defined and governance across the healthcare industry to ensure that this is adhered to.