Why Is Interoperability Important?

Interoperability is the most persistent and fundamental challenge the healthcare industry faces today—and the industry spends tremendous energy trying to solve it. But interoperability discussions that focus solely on how to connect system A to system B miss the point. The real challenge is not just creating a free flow of data between systems, but figuring out how to move information in a meaningful way so that it is useful in a different context, and merging workflows so that people can do their jobs more efficiently.

Interoperability requires providers and managed care organizations to share information with multiple systems—all with different owners, different processes, and different underlying methods of assembling data. This data needs to be normalized to support the population health management goals, and delivered to the right people at the right time in the right setting so they can take the right actions. Any friction that prevents information sharing among these disparate systems and settings means that critical data doesn’t get to the people who need it in time to make decisions that will efficiently affect care.

True interoperability means not just focusing on data exchange, but on creating interoperable workflows, so that the act of participating in new activities is not disruptive. This means that the workflows must be harmonized so that users avoid inefficiencies such as double data entry when participating in broader population health management activities that require collaboration with organizations outside their four walls. It means making the user experience better, finding ways to notify users of key information to improve their ability to follow through on the care delivered in time to make a difference, and even blending the functionality of disparate systems at appropriate junctures. If we do it right, teams can efficiently work together to achieve their mutual goals and we’ll be a step closer to solving healthcare.

As a provider of care management software-as-a-service, we encounter the challenges of interoperability every day. Integrating care management tools with critical systems such as EHRs, HIEs, data warehouses, external analytics and business intelligence tools, Direct HISPs, and claims and billing systems—and minimizing friction by focusing on how the information is integrated into the workflow—is critical to successful population health management. We believe that data sharing for transparency alone is not sufficient and that the exchange of data should not just be ubiquitous, but also be harnessed to improve the quality of care that is delivered. We’ve found that when this more comprehensive approach is taken, more interoperability goals are achieved, and population health management just works better.

Our industry has made progress in developing interoperability guidelines to facilitate data exchange, but previous failures have lowered our standards. It is time to raise the interoperability bar and move beyond rhetoric to embrace a more open data exchange mentality and make a commitment to workflow harmony, which better supports our ability to manage population health. Our patients deserve better.

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