In order for the healthcare industry to innovate and keep up with disruptive market scenarios, emerging technologies, and patients’ expectations, clinical data, which is usually unstructured and non-uniform, needs to flow freely across networks and systems. In clinical situations, better communication between systems and different players involved can lead to easier access to details from patients’ electronic health records, identify the relevant elements for the treating of the patient, and prevent certain conditions or reduce their incidence. For hospitals and staff alike, being able to have all pertinent information easily accessible can reduce medical errors, improve patient treatment times and the quality of care.
In emergency cases, access to fast and relevant information is key, as some patients are unable to provide relevant information about their previous health conditions. Even beyond that, the development and access to new treatments would be highly accelerated if systems and networks would communicate effectively. Here comes the concept of interoperability, the key to digital transformation in healthcare, which is expected to drive new levels of insight, facilitate new business models, and, more importantly, transform the experience for patients and healthcare professionals alike.
The concept of interoperability has started to emerge in the context of electronic health records (EHR), which replaced paper-based ones. It’s what HIMSS as a global organization and other initiatives are trying to accomplish when it comes to digital healthcare. Any initiative towards using data analytics for patient-centered care will need interoperability as a principle that governs every healthcare system regardless of vendor, country, treatment protocols, standards, or regulation in place. According to Deloitte, by 2040, interoperability will be one of the most important pillars of any modern healthcare system. The ultimate goal of interoperability is to ensure health data is securely available anytime, anywhere for patient aid directly or indirectly for research and medication purposes. According to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, cost of care, consumer experience, care coordination, patient outcomes, access to care (33%), value-based care, and payment models are the areas that will be positively impacted by interoperability.
Challenges in advancing digital transformation in healthcare
In essence, interoperability characterizes those systems and networks that give patients and physicians better access to critical health information easily and securely. Thanks to interoperability, EHRs and other healthcare data management systems can communicate and exchange patient data effectively. In interoperability, access to information itself is not enough; the exchange, integration, and cooperative use of data, within and across organizations and geographies, are paramount as well.
Health data exchange architectures, application interfaces, and standards are the key components of any successful interoperable healthcare system and ensure that data is shared across clinicians, labs, hospitals, pharmacies, and patients regardless of the application or vendor, without additional effort on the part of the user. According to HIMSS, there are four levels of health information technology interoperability: foundational, structural, semantic, and organizational. Each level has its part in ensuring that any change and advancement in a certain healthcare system (which implies new data, workflows, and so on) leads to an easy switch from one vendor to another, from one system to another, all with the mission to optimize the healthcare process.
Due to Covid-19, the topic of interoperability emerges as an essential condition for digital transformation in healthcare, as now, more than ever, public and private health systems need to both work towards the same goal. However, as more needs to be done in such a short period of time, the privacy issue is what may hinder interoperability unless it is treated at least as cautiously as other aspects of the care. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions confirms that privacy and data security, followed by the misalignment of data standards, are some of the challenges that affect any process that is focused on achieving interoperability.
Currently, there is no common EHR system operating across the entire EU, an aspect with the potential to negatively influence interoperability. To this extent, in order to unlock the flow of health data across borders and to accelerate the number of initiatives related to interoperability, the European Commission has recently adopted a Recommendation on a European electronic health record exchange format. The set of recommendations is based on a public consultation on digital health and other similar initiatives that found that the heterogeneity of EHRs emerged as one of the main obstacles to exchanging health data and advancing digital health in Europe. Today, health information on specific cases can be exchanged within the EU through one of the 24 thematic European Reference Networks (ERNs). These networks enable virtual panels of clinicians to diagnose and treat patients suffering from rare, complex, and low prevalence diseases. About 900 highly specialized healthcare units located in around 300 hospitals of 25 Member States (plus Norway) take part in the ERNs.
One step closer to achieving interoperability
In the digital healthcare transformation journey, there are technologies better suited to help in bypassing certain challenges in achieving interoperability. A cloud-based EHR can help in facilitating information exchange between healthcare organizations and professionals. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can also bring numerous benefits, especially in the case of high volumes of unstructured data.
On another level, APIs can be key enablers of the data sharing process, which is a contributing factor in the impressive API traffic growth within the healthcare industry: 400% in 2020. Another technology with potential benefits is blockchain. The level of trust and accessibility that comes with it is sometimes impossible to replicate by any other underlining technology. Depending on the level of interoperability achieved by certain healthcare systems and networks, each technology can come as a natural enabler in any business decision centered on digital transformation.
Fully informed and accurate decisions is perhaps the most appealing promise of interoperability. Patients and healthcare professionals can focus on the healing process and forget about too many administrative tasks. This helps greatly in avoiding diagnostic or drug prescription errors, but also in detecting patterns and preventing certain conditions. For any player involved, this translates into a seamless switch between healthcare providers, systems, or networks.
Learn more on the facets of digital transformation in healthcare and beyond in our latest ebook: The Post-Pandemic Strategy – Digital Transformation in Fintech and Healthcare.
About Ana Păstrăvanu
Ana is a marketing specialist at Maxcode, with a focus on writing and shaping quality content related to the industries our company is active in. Her experience as an editor and researcher on financial developments has helped her better understand the market and develop her passion to follow new trends and analyze them in order to provide relevant and actionable insights.