Image credits: Luke Chesser on Unsplash
The term ‘interoperability’ has been here in healthcare for quite some time now, yet there is still a long way to go before the perfect health data exchange can be delivered. Interoperability comes with many regulations, standards, and communities to support the implementation of much improved interoperable healthcare solutions. Given the number of regulations and deadlines imposed for meeting those mandates, becoming and maintaining compliance is a challenge for healthcare organizations, yet these mandates accelerate the process of establishing secure, efficient, and universal healthcare data exchange; benefiting everyone within the healthcare ecosystem.
Innovation defines the development of any technology and is much needed in the healthcare industry. Continuous research and testing pave the way for advanced healthcare, which evolves with time. Undoubtedly, a better interoperable environment encourages innovation, eliminating some of the barriers to rapid development.
Simply, an improved healthcare network with better interoperable features would provide,
- Secured health data exchange
- Efficient and hassle-free healthcare for patients with better care coordination
- Universal protocols to collaborating on projects, share knowledge, research, and development
- A competitive and better market pool of health IT applications.
A quick note on Standards & Regulations
Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®) was introduced by HL7® as a standard for exchanging healthcare data electronically. FHIR provides standardization over data formats, elements (described as ‘resources’) & application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow developers to build web applications where the data is securely accessible regardless of the EHR systems or network. FHIR could be a long-term solution for the entire healthcare industry where issues that hinder interoperability can be addressed.
“The Interoperability and Patient Access final rule (CMS-9115-F)” is a recent regulation introduced by CMS. This mandate imposes several policies where the patients will enjoy the accessibility of their health data whenever they need it.
Aligning with the CMS Patient Access Final Rule, “The Cures Act” from the ONC is again pushing forward interoperability within the healthcare sector. The rule revolves around the patients, providers, and the developers of health IT focusing on secure access of health data for patients and providers. The rule also defines Information Blocking & related exceptions & imposes several conditions on APIs.
Both of these rules escalate the adaptations of the FHIR® standard within healthcare IT.
New trends and requirements of today healthcare
Modern technologies are ever-changing according to the requirements in Healthcare. Healthcare services are on the way to a fully digitalized operation throughout the network.
Solutions for emergency/crisis handling in Pandemics.
Due to the uprising challenges and the requirements these unforeseen circumstances bring to the table, innovation is now a critical factor in sustaining the viability of healthcare services. The unexpected situations created by the COVID-19 pandemic clearly show the need for a healthcare network with better control & far superior integration. Despite the hard-learned lesson, now many organizations are focused on improving the health services wrapping it with information technology. Remote monitoring systems, Telehealth platforms, wearable devices, mobile applications are some categories of the products that are being presented.
What is important is, whether these systems and technologies could work together and give health workers a hand in a pandemic situation.
Virtual Healthcare includes many digitalized services that patients and health workers can engage remotely. This includes video/audio calls between patients and doctors to monitor patient vital signs. Virtual Care can be simply identified as methodologies that all the stakeholders of a healthcare network can use to share data among them, in real-time.
By 2017, 64.7% of the U.S. office-based physicians had the digitized capabilities to identify patients that are due for checkups or follow-up care (CDC.gov). Integrating information technology with healthcare brings convenience over day-to-day tasks. The recent pandemic also pushed the healthcare system toward a rapid adaptation of virtual care with restrictions for traveling.
AI and ML in healthcare
Artificial intelligence coupled with machine learning has the potential to enable the next big leap in the way we use technology in healthcare. These practices are already making effects on healthcare IT and have proven beneficial.
Both these technologies come in handy when processing massive amounts of data, which is already a norm in healthcare. Optimizing and processing big data for use in healthcare could save billions of dollars in the healthcare system. This could accelerate research projects and provide better insights for decision-making. AI & ML can be used to identify diseases & pandemic situations by processing through the data collections.
Also, it could support the process of maintaining health networks and deliver a smooth health data circulation.
Interoperability and the Innovation
Undoubtedly, a better interoperable framework would be beneficial in the attempts of innovation. This can cut down the cost and time we spend on research and development, allowing innovators to work in collaboration and achieve the expected outcomes.
There are several key factors that everyone should take a closer look at if we are going to succeed in innovating through interoperability.
Support of all the stakeholders involved in healthcare
While many stakeholders are involved in a healthcare network, they can be included in several categories. The health service relies on the joint effort of Providers, Payers, Pharmaceutical firms, Government, and Health IT solution vendors & developers to serve patients.
Even though interoperability thrives through healthcare IT, the support & collaboration of all the stakeholders is required to deliver innovative products.
- Healthcare service providers should closely interact with health IT developers in deploying electronic systems and their maintenance. Acquiring new systems or technologies can be a rather complex process for a provider given the amount of pre-analyzing that should be carried out. There are many aspects to consider when reaching out to IT developers including the essential requirement, financial & legal feasibility, ROI, and the ability to integrate with existing systems. Sharing the expertise of both IT and Healthcare professionals is critical to communicate the requirements and expectations required to provide healthcare services with the latest technologies.
- The insurance industry plays a critical role in healthcare service and most of the patients rely on their insurance plan in case of an emergency. With new rules & regulations being adopted, it can be a challenge to handle it as a business, providing the required facilities in medical bill coverings while keeping the shareholders satisfied.
- Pharmaceutical firms and other medical equipment manufacturers also contribute to the development of healthcare services, investing billions in research & development. In a better interoperable environment, their intelligent systems and machines would run with tight integration with all the other systems and networks.
- Government agencies & organizations handle the rule-making processes aiming to establish standards across the industry which accelerates the adaptations of improved, secure technologies for healthcare services.
Health IT solution vendors and developers work alongside all of the above-mentioned groups to deliver the product solutions. A good communication channel between these groups is a massive advantage for developers because it reduces the burden of identifying exact requirements, complex rules & regulations, and most importantly, suggestions and ideas on new solutions from many different perspectives, which add value to a production.
Collaboration on Research & Development
Many of the groups involved in healthcare allocate a substantial amount of money for research & development annually, which is much appreciated since it is a major pathway to innovation. On the other hand, these projects could take years to deliver findings and implement their use in a real-world production environment.
Rather than researching independently, a joint effort is likely more valuable in terms of time, money, and results. There would be more expert knowledge on every aspect of healthcare including clinical practices, associated policies, and Information Technology. In simple words, interoperability is the key to a much-needed innovation process in healthcare.
Improved Care coordination
According to the AHRQ, care coordination is defined as “the deliberate organization of patient care activities between two or more participants (including the patient) involved in a patient's care to facilitate the appropriate delivery of health care services”. Practicing coordinated care provides benefits for both patients and healthcare service providers. It encourages sharing expert knowledge on diseases & treatments, provides effective care, and shares resources between hospitals.
The effectiveness of the coordination process depends on the systems or platforms used by the healthcare staff. An advanced system with superior administrative and security features, integrated with systems in other medical centers would be ideal for the purpose. Again, improved interoperability leads to the creation of an improved care coordination framework.
In any market, startups are an essential part of innovation which leads to new products and technologies. In healthcare, IT, startup projects, or companies are much loved given that the requirement for new innovative ways to handle healthcare is always there. Any startups will have to go through the process of adhering to the new standards and rules around healthcare to compete and present better solutions.
A single source for healthcare interoperability collaboration
Lack of a single platform to learn or collaborate on ideas is a definite drawback for innovation. Regardless of being a health service provider, payer, or developer, there are hundreds of things to keep track of to remain up-to-date. Considering a Health IT solution vendor, there are many rules and regulations, data standards that require compliance while providing a competitive innovative package that satisfies all the other stakeholders in a project.
The information regarding all the policies and standards is scattered in different platforms and websites which makes it harder to cascade them into one product. An up to date one platform containing all the required information on healthcare interoperability would be a haven for the Health IT community as well as Health service providers and payers.
Hype up the world on interoperability!
Many organizations involved in policy-making operate on an international level, yet it seems few countries are adhering to these healthcare service policies. This can be due to many reasons and complications pose as many countries operate their healthcare in unique ways with different financial models, technologies, and management structures.
Promoting interoperability and its use cases at a universal level will pave the way for better results with collaborative efforts. This could open the eyes of the innovators for research on different cultures, societies, their view of healthcare and create solutions with specific features for different communities within one standardized framework.
But it’s a challenge to everyone who dreams of perfect interoperability where we can access any data we need, whenever we want regardless of where we are on earth.
All stakeholders in the healthcare network, working in collaboration toward greater interoperability and innovation create a complex mechanism in action. Healthcare and Social Services is the largest employer in the US with a workforce of over 20 million employees and is expected to grow 14% by 2028. Combining this with Health IT, insurance, and legal organizations, it is a massive network to handle and quite a complex & rigorous task to gather under the same standards requiring a tremendous amount of effort & support from everyone. But given the fact that interoperability leads to innovation and all the benefits it brings, it is worth the effort.