Interoperability in healthcare: better connectivity for better patient care

Improving interoperability in healthcare will enhance the services delivered by clinicians, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes. It delivers secure access and integration of electronic health data so it can be used to optimise health outcomes. By bringing together patient information from multiple trusted sources, healthcare providers and patients will have greater visibility of accurate information that leads to better decisions, which in turn leads to better outcomes.

The importance of interoperability in healthcare has been clear for some time – and is only gaining importance in Australia and around the world. 

Australia is continually working towards open data policies that create an environment for interoperability, and use of data assets as a national resource. However, although progress has been made, there are still obstacles in the way of connected care. 

These obstacles are complex and varied but include how to best manage unstructured patient data and content and how to integrate data from multiple EHR systems. Additionally, healthcare organisations are challenged with integrating new solutions with existing software solutions or legacy systems as well as addressing clinician and staff resistance to adopting new solutions into existing workflows.  While these barriers need to be overcome, one thing is clear: Access to crucial patient content must be improved if we are to meet tomorrow’s standard of patient care. 

The ONC Health Interoperability Outcomes 2030 survey found consensus among providers that interoperability is a top priority, with goals of integrating patient data from inside and outside the system and combining clinical and administrative data to support patient care and business applications. This is a view that is widely reflected in Australia as well as around the globe. 

The industry has backed this interest with significant investment: The global healthcare interoperability solutions market – at $2.9 billion in 2021 – is projected to reach $5.7 billion by 2026, according to Markets and Markets forecast for Healthcare Interoperability Solutions.

The 2022 State of Connected Care Survey conducted by HIMSS Market Insights details that healthcare leaders are looking to implement interoperability improvements. The survey found that 67% of respondents are currently using, piloting or planning to integrate point-of-care imaging and workflows. While this is a step in the right direction, the fundamental issue remains – information is often stored in siloes and interoperability can only be achieved with enterprise solutions like Vendor Neutral Archives (VNA) that can store data in its original format. Access to medical images and patient records, enhances clinician ability to make informed decisions for improved patient outcomes.

Why is interoperability in healthcare important?

Patient information, like all information in the global datasphere, is exploding. The driving force for this is the proliferation of capture devices (like mobile phones) and the sophistication of video and jpeg formats. The total volume of patient data is growing in terms of total volume, but it is also becoming more complex, diverse and larger.  More information can provide deeper insights, but it also creates challenges in securely ingesting, sorting, normalising, classifying and analysing it to make it useful in a timely manner. 

This is particularly true with images, where the object and metadata need to be stored separately. It is also critical with AI, where some information needs to be anonymised. As data grows, so does the importance of securely integrating and exchanging health information to ensure complete information for care decisions.

Respondents to the HIMSS Market Insights survey cited obstacles to connected care including integrating data that is siloed in multiple EHRs, managing unstructured content and systems integrations.

In healthcare, patient information is often fragmented across specialties, locked inside systems or inaccessible from within a core system. EMRs or EHRs – regarded as the central store for patient information – don’t always handle unstructured information like point of care medical images and clinician notes well. They may provide some connection but not store, manage and retrieve. Often the file types are changed – storing as PDFs for example may result in losing its qualitative value. PACS imaging technology, software that typically supports only radiology or cardiology departments, ties clinicians to proprietary workstations and requires manual steps to share imaging with hospitals and others, causing delays and interfering in valuable collaboration. 

The need for connected care

Even within a single health system, staff may take manual, time consuming steps to extract and share information. A classic example is the “CD workflow” where radiology burns imaging studies on CDs for delivery to another department. When information is difficult to access, it creates inefficiency and inconvenience for patients and providers while also creating delays in treatment. 

Access to unstructured information becomes an even bigger challenge when a patient travels outside their home system. Imaging, reports and test results conducted at one facility may be instrumental for informing decisions at another. In addition, today’s patients are also wanting access to their medical information.

When information can be easily and securely shared, collaborators can also tap into a network of colleagues and cross-functional teams to deepen insights and share knowledge. 

The ability to share information also avoids the expense and inconvenience of a patient having to repeat imaging or testing simply because their information cannot be shared with another organisation or health system.

While the case for secure access to a more complete patient record is clear, the path to get there isn’t always straightforward. 

The future of healthcare interoperability solutions

Many healthcare organisations aim to centralise and streamline access to important content in clinical and administrative functions. Progress is being made, but it isn’t always a smooth journey – and the quest isn’t diminishing. The obstacles remain whereby many departments, for example radiology, run their own application environment with data housed in silos. Furthermore, there’s often an emotional reluctance at the department level to move away from what’s in place today.  IT needs executive support for a top-down move towards enterprise systems and to figure out a compelling case for change, with strong change management planning.  Therefore, it’s internal resistance and the distributed data that’s holding this up.

The recent HIMSS Market Insight survey shows that three-quarters of respondents expect to purchase a connected care platform. They are also deciding what information is most important to exchange and weighing which technologies will have significant impact on efficiency.

Get the most current insights into interoperability at the HIMSS22 APAC Conference & Exhibition

Interoperability in healthcare will be a key focus of the upcoming HIMSS22 APAC Conference & Exhibition in Bali this September. Now more than ever, healthcare organisations need access to all clinical content, including medical images to provide the best patient care.

Hyland Healthcare, recognised as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms for the past 12 years, is returning to the HIMsS22 APAC Conference & Exhibition this September. If you are at the show, visit the Hyland team at booth 224!

At the event, Hyland will demonstrate how an enterprise content services and medical imaging platform connects unstructured content, medical images and data, linking it for use by key stakeholders within their core systems. As a result, health systems and payers accelerate business processes, decrease errors, streamline workflows and improve insight for decisions.