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Tuesday, November 17, 2015 1:00 PM

Interoperability — Don't Get Crushed by the Chaos

Written by Michelle Schneider, Product Director


Interoperability can mean many things.

Interoperability is one of those words that conjures up very different visuals for each of us. Paper cups attached by string, the WiFi router in your home, the towers and satellites that allow your text to be sent across the world in milliseconds, and the NASA space station, are all examples of interoperability. 

In healthcare, it might mean electronically receiving the lab order from the doctor’s office, or aggregating and sharing in target-system-ese, the problems, meds, and allergies of every patient in Massachusetts.

Some might say the term interoperability is overused, but it’s shorter than saying, “take thousands of proprietary systems that were created as good ol', 'stand-alone, I don’t need anyone, I am king of the hill, you can’t boss me around,' and make them share information.” 

Healthcare is getting a bad rap for its lack of interoperability.

Some have even hinted that it is criminal. That is a naïve view of a very complex environment where a small hospital can have all the architecture in place to successfully attest for MU stages 1 and 2, only to be acquired by a larger system that will take it on a three-year journey to change its architecture and EMR, all in the spirit of making it interoperable with the new network to which it’s been joined. 

But, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, right? Actually, it’s a marathon riddled with thousands of sprints like:

  • Implementing a hospital EMR
  • Receiving orders from the family practice EHR into your LIS
  • Sending LAB results back to the family practice EHR
  • Implementing a new EMR because you’ve been purchased by a large network
  • Requirements from the state to send Population Health data
  • Requirements to send all clinical data because your network is part of a Regional HIE, and so on...

With the finish line seeming farther and farther away, mapping out the best interoperability plan, and choosing the tools that will stand the test of time, is the greatest challenge of all. 

The financial burden and the lack of standards (or too many competing standards) are cited as the top two reasons for the interoperability chaos. Don’t get crushed by the chaos.

There are some simple steps that you can take to get organized and start working towards your goals.

Start with some basic details:

  1. Create an inventory of your current state — What architecture is in place?
  2. What’s missing? What are the urgent needs?
  3. What’s on target for the year ahead?
  4. Review your five-year plan
  5. Do you have a ten-year plan? 

Now ask the most important question of all. Is your current architecture adequate to meet your goals? 

  1. Yes — Excellent. Full steam ahead!
  2. No — Why Not? Possible reasons:
    1. Product issues (outdated, too simplistic, uncertified)
    2. Integration challenges (too many/outdated interfaces/interface engines, databases need consolidation)
    3. Lack of Expertise (technical, analyst, project management, regulatory, etc.)
    4. Not enough bandwidth (hardware, human)
    5. Limited resources (financial, human, knowledge)

Now that you’ve identified the gaps, you can set a plan in motion. You can decide to go it alone, or take the journey with a trusted, experienced partner. 

While interoperability “best practices” may be well defined on paper, the tools that claim to have it all are many and varied. 

Take the time to research your options, align with experienced resources, and set a course for success.

How to get help:

For more specific ways that you can maximize your existing infrastructure, or capitalize on available interoperability tools to meet your interoperability goals, view this educational webcast: Interoperability — Realizing Your Vision.