December 23, 2021
Interoperability in healthcare – challenges, solutions, and the future
Healthcare in today’s day and age has grown multifold, offering the best medical facilities to patients. As an organization providing healthcare solutions – be it a clinic, a hospital or a pharmacy, keeping all your services linked can get hard. Interoperability in healthcare is an ideal way out from the tangled mess of organising your patients’ data for them. This system can help the multiple departments of your healthcare organization or entirely different collaborating organizations function as one unit and be beneficial for your business in many ways. That said, given the current pandemic situation, interoperability can also help reduce physical contact between the patient and the various service providers. However, it does come with its own set of unique challenges which can definitely be tackled without much fuss.
What are the benefits of interoperability?
For healthcare service providers
As said before, interoperability helps you unify your business. Once you have the system running, it can help save a lot of time on the back and forth that can happen between two departments; say, the pharmacy of your clinic and the billing system. Moreover, if you’re an organization aiming to provide your patients with multiple services such as operation or treatment aftercare, routine checkups, financial management and so on, running everything can get cumbersome. Interoperability can help you serve your patients better. Added to this is the benefit of efficiency. A unified system can give you more space to grow and connect with more organizations that complement your goals. Your patients can now get timely treatment enhanced by the data you collect via a patient’s mobile phone, wearable device, telehealth checkups, online prescriptions and medical bills that can be sent directly to a pharmacy from the clinic/ hospital and so much more. Lastly, interoperability can take your clinic to a global level by enhancing the quality of care you provide and in the process also save you millions.
As a patient, interoperability saves you the trouble of having to repeat your medical history to multiple practitioners. You can be assured that all your data – be it medications, allergies, conditions, tests or doctor’s who’ve treated you – will be stored in one encrypted corner for you to access when need be. A healthcare organization that provides you with this service can help save you a lot of time. Furthermore, you can also effortlessly connect with your pharmacy, insurance provider and the hospital billing to keep track of your expenses and bill payments. By remembering all your medical data for you, it’ll save you some bucks that would have otherwise been spent on discussing it with new doctors.
Interoperability can be a big help to pharmacies. They can now receive prescriptions from the healthcare providers and ensure that they’re always stocked for the same. Pharmacies that deliver medications to domiciles of patients can also use this option to upgrade their services. Apart from that, it can also be helpful to specialty pharmacies that undertake routine checkups, follow-up visits and offer other such medical services. Apart from that, interoperability can also help a clinic’s administrative staff segregate and store the information of the patient better which in turn helps avoid any errors on their part.
What about the challenges in interoperability?
Interoperability in simple terms is the ability to integrate multiple services into one entity to expedite data transfer. Despite its many advantages, not many clinics have been able to successfully inculcate it into their systems. In the US, less than 40 % of clinics have attempted to utilise it and have partially managed to share the data with other organizations. There are a handful of factors that hamper with the success of interoperability, the primary being the standards of use. Each organization has a different standard at which they operate. Bringing together such organizations under a common system can get difficult and sharing data with them more so. The mode of operation can vary in the means of storing data, the format of retaining information and even the use of language in doing so.
Secondly, when multiple organizations collaborate in one single system, the data gets too much to handle depending on the size of these organizations. If a pharmacy is exchanging data with more than one hospital for instance, there could be an overload of data in its system. This could decelerate the workflow of the pharmacy instead of expediting it.
Lastly, corruption and lack of knowledge or resources also affect the success of interoperability. Some providers can input incorrect or faulty data for their personal gains which can affect the quality of services that the patient receives. Apart from that, there is also a possibility that providers can restrict information – in a process known as ‘information blocking’ – until the receiver pays a certain amount to be able to access it. Insurers can also sometimes be hesitant to provide a patient’s treatment and claim history to medical professionals. Apart from that a lot of providers are either rigid on sticking to the traditional systems or are unaware of the possibilities within interoperability. Moreover, the lack of financial resources for many organizations prevents them from investing in the same as well. Even if an organization does become a part of the system, its operators could lack the skills to exploit it in the best way possible.
Is there a way to overcome these challenges?
- To start off, government funding towards standardizing interoperability in healthcare service providers could be helpful.
- Secondly, usage of data integration tools and healthcare analytics solutions could help overcome the obstacle of data overload. These help with not just efficient allocation of resources but also cost-reduction for the healthcare service.
- There also needs to be a standardization of the language used by the various integrated healthcare service providers. This can help avoid any misunderstanding and make interoperability more efficient by making it readable to both the sender and receiver as well as the computer.
- Educating the operators on the availability of API (Application Programming Interface), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and healthcare analytics tools and on its utilization is crucial. They should also be made aware of the benefits of interoperability with regards to convenience and cost-cutting.