about interoperability

What is healthcare interoperability?

The latest HIMSS' definition is: In healthcare, interoperability is the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged. 1. Data exchange schema and standards should permit data to be shared across clinicians, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient regardless of the application or application vendor.
Source: HIMSS Interoperability and Standards.

  • 1

    Syntactic Interoperability

    According to HL7, "if two or more systems are capable of communicating and exchanging data, they are exhibiting syntactic interoperability. Specified data formats, communication protocols and the like are fundamental. In general, XML or SQL standards provide syntactic interoperability."
  • 2

    Semantic Interoperability

    According to HIMSS, "‘Semantic’ interoperability is the ability of two or more systems to exchange information and to interpret and use that information. Semantic interoperability takes advantage of both the structuring of the data exchange and the codification of the data, including standard, publicly available vocabulary, so that the receiving information management systems can interpret the data. Semantic interoperability supports the electronic exchange of patient data and information among authorized parties via potentially disparate health information and technology systems and products to improve quality, costs, safety, efficiency, experience and efficacy of healthcare delivery."

"We are speaking here both of exchanges between different parts of an enterprise (between departments or companies in a corporate group) as well as between different enterprises. In addition interoperability becomes particularly important for entities which have merged or who have made a new acquisition. Likewise interoperability becomes a factor when an organization seeks to integrate a purchased product into an existing suites of products. ... The process whereby the details of these data exchanges are worked out is called interoperability planning. Often the best starting point is a data model. Data models define the data structures. Although some policy makers belittle data standards, they may be referring to the difficulty of imposing standards not on the exchange of data but on the storage of data." (* From "Modeling Command & Control Interoperability" by John A. Hamilton, Jr., Ph.D., SCS Press, Society for Modeling & Simulation International, San Diego, CA, 2004.)

"Healthcare IT" includes the implementation of any software or hardware systems with business processes which are needed to support anyone in the healthcare field, including healthcare providers (such as doctors, nurses, laboratory staff, managers, administrative staff, clinical personnel, hospital staff, insurance companies, drug companies, pharmacies, government agencies and clinicians). It is a very large field of endeavor with a huge variety of Information Technology needs. Furthermore, the needs are constantly changing and increasing in complexity. The concept of an HIT business process includes such tasks as scheduling appointments, ordering a laboratory test, recording patient notes when a doctor asks a patient what is wrong, creating an invoice for services rendered, recording payments from a patient or insurance carrier, reporting laboratory results, and any of many other steps needed for caring for well and sick people or in some cases animals.

  • Achieving Interoperability

    There are many roles which consume the products of Healthcare IT. CIO's plan work flows for their organization. Nurses must ensure quality care for patients. Doctors access clinical decision support systems, report to outside agencies, and a myriad of other EHR functions. Provider accounting properly codes and manages accounting functions. Insurance companies process claims, interface to drugstores, and follow Federal policy. Lab technicians receive orders, report and archive the results. Achieving interoperability is based on a complex architectural coordination. Standards are an important part of the choreography which enables the dance of interoperability. Agreed-upon common reference data tables in the form of terminologies are crucial for communication between enterprises. Interoperability is also concerned with the behavioral standards of separate software systems.

What is a Connectathon?

"Connectathons are held in Asia, Europe and North America. During the event, programmers write and test programs for systems to exchange information with complementary systems from multiple vendors, performing all of the transactions required for the roles they have selected, called IHE Actors, in support of defined clinical use cases, called IHE Profiles. Thousands of vendor-to-vendor connections have been tested overall, and tens of thousands of transactions passed among the systems tested. The sponsoring organizations publishes the results of this testing for public review.

The Connectathon provides detailed validation of the participants' interoperability and compliance with IHE profiles. Participating companies prepare for the event using testing software developed for this purpose. It offers vendors a unique opportunity for connectivity testing and removing barriers to integration that would otherwise have to be dealt with on site, at the customer's expense. Companies taking part have responded overwhelmingly that the IHE process addresses important issues in their product development plans.

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