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Back to the Basics of Interoperability in Healthcare

What is Interoperability?

Interoperability is when different information systems can exchange, interpret, and integrate data between one another in a meaningful way [1]. The data that is transferred should be done carefully to protect patients. Furthermore, the data should be exchanged both within the same system and between various systems. 

Different Levels of Interoperability


Foundational interoperability is when one system sends data to another system. Oftentimes, the two systems may not be able to interpret the data [1]. This form is the most basic level and doesn’t result in any useful data use. 


The next level of interoperability is when the exchanged data can be interpreted but only on the data-field level [1]. This step is slightly better than the previous level, however, only the data’s purpose can be understood rather than the actual data. 


The third level of interoperability is when the two systems can interpret and use the data that is being exchanged between one another [1]. This is a crucial level because shared patient information can be used to make connections. Furthermore, since the data is converted for the second system to use, duplicate records can be removed and care can be better coordinated [1]. 


The goal of interoperability is to reach this level, where secured data can be used efficiently between different systems and individuals across various platforms [1]. However, most hospitals are far from meeting this goal and must focus on the more basic levels first. Ultimately, the goal of this level is to promote collaboration, reduce adverse health effects, and decrease costs for patients and hospitals [1]. 

Problems with Standards in Interoperability Between Registries 

The U.S has various registries that provide patient information and data. Oftentimes, these lists are used across the nation and must be put together uniformly. Otherwise, they may face additional costs associated with collecting and formatting data [2]. The data from registries may come from EHR systems, manual clinician inputs, wearables, or even from patient portals [2]. This increases the burden and costs of making the data available because of the different types of data being shared. 

Priorities Between Registries

The first priority is to create standardization in registries that consist of common patient data [2]. This includes data such as demographics, pain levels, and a patient’s vitals [2]. The next priority is to create a standard model that meets the functional requirements of most registries [2]. Additionally, registries should develop a nationwide standard for specimen collection that is available to most hospital systems [2]. Next, patient matching across various registries should be improved to provide coordinated care [2]. Lastly, general technical guidance should be adopted to keep data formatted the same even when the data type is physically organized differently from one another. Although there is a long way to go before interoperability is reached, achieving standards that fit the needs of most registries is crucial to reducing the cost and burden of data sharing. 

Benefits of Interoperability in Healthcare

Providers must provide meaningful and coordinated care to patients. Therefore, interoperability plays a big role in providing patient-centered care. The first benefit of interoperability is improving the quality of care to patients [3]. When given current key information, providers can make informed decisions that promote positive patient results. This reduces patient errors and allows patients to receive higher quality care. The next benefit is reducing the cost of care for both hospitals and patients [3]. The last benefit of interoperability is the increased efficiency between healthcare systems [3]. Providers can treat patients faster since there will be less of a need to redo intake forms. Furthermore, patients will be able to easily transfer data across different hospitals and can receive care faster. Overall, interoperability benefits patients and health staff long-term. 

Current Challenges of Interoperability 

The lack of a uniform sharing system is one of the many challenges of interoperability [4]. The use of custom EHR systems with their formats and structure makes sharing data with other doctors much more difficult. Another challenge is the lack of security for data in motion [4]. Patient data may be at risk due to cyber threats and varying levels of security amongst different health systems. Therefore, providers need to balance security with better access to patient data. Another issue revolves around patient consent [4]. Providers may choose not to share data across different platforms due to the ambiguity of where patient consent may be needed. This makes it difficult to provide coordinated care to patients without putting companies at risk of legal action. Finally, the last common challenge is the learning curve associated with clinicians learning how to use new integrated healthcare systems [4].  


HITS provides healthcare management services and works with providers in the development of health informatics tools that promote safe, timely, and secure patient care. We take pride in our services and settle for nothing other than 100% quality solutions for our clients. Furthermore, HITS supports and promotes information sharing within the health and public health sector while protecting against cyber threats between the private health care industry and the federal government. Having the right team assist with data sharing is crucial to encouraging collaborative and secure care for patients. If you’re looking for the right team, HITS is it! You can reach out to us directly at info@healthitsol.com. Check out this link if you’re interested in having a 15-minute consultation with us: https://bit.ly/3RLsRXR.


  1. https://ehrintelligence.com/features/how-health-data-standards-support-healthcare-interoperability#:~:text=DEFINING%20HEALTHCARE%20INTEROPERABILITY&text=There%20are%20four%20levels%20of,structural%2C%20semantic%2C%20and%20organizational
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5961768/
  3. https://oliveai.com/resources/blog/The-benefits-of-interoperability-in-healthcare
  4. https://www.ibm.com/topics/interoperability-in-healthcare
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