Healthcare Interoperability Considerations We Can’t Ignore In 2024

Sasha Andrieiev is CEO & Co-founder at Jelvix | Digital Leader | Innovation Expert.

With the increasing demand for enhanced patient care, the healthcare sector stands at the crossroads of innovation and challenge. Notably, interoperability is recognized as one of the main principles of how digital health should work.

In 2018, the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted resolution WHA71.7 on digital health requesting the development of a global strategy for 2020 through 2025. The goal was to improve healthcare delivery by adopting a person-centric approach to digital health solutions.

Healthcare providers wasted no time in responding to the evolving trend. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) reported that 88% of hospitals used electronic data exchange in 2021 and, compared to 2018, they used more methods to send, receive, store and analyze patient health data. But was the objective of enhancing healthcare with interoperability truly fulfilled?

Why Interoperability Can’t Be Achieved Immediately

As we step into 2024, the journey toward seamless data exchange in healthcare remains challenging. Did you know that almost half of the hospitals (48%) suffer from one-sided data exchange, as reported by the ONC? They share patient data with other providers but don’t receive data from them.

The reason is that the path to interoperability is challenging. From navigating varied data formats to addressing cybersecurity, overcoming these challenges helps ensure a future in which healthcare information flows effortlessly for the benefit of patients and the entire healthcare ecosystem.

Standardization Struggles

Achieving interoperability requires a standardized approach to data exchange. However, the diverse landscape of healthcare data formats, from structured electronic health records to unstructured doctor’s notes, remains a complex task. The U.S. healthcare system, characterized by its fragmentation, adds complexity as different payers and providers operate on different systems.

It can be a good idea to implement industry-wide standards like Health Level Seven International (HL7) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) to create a common language for healthcare data exchange, streamlining interoperability among diverse systems and formats.

Data Quality Dilemma

Addressing the quality of data is crucial in healthcare interoperability. Various types of low-quality information, including irrelevant data, unrepresentative samples, omissions and invalid information, can compromise the accuracy of patient medical records. This challenge spans text, digital, audio and graphic data formats.

To resolve the problem of low-quality text and digits, think about implementing methods of statistical data analysis to identify patterns, outliers and inconsistencies. To enhance the quality of audio and video data, consider applying frequency and spatial filtering techniques. These methods help reduce interference, noise and artifacts, ensuring that healthcare professionals receive clear information. Utilize machine learning algorithms to detect irregularities, imbalances or discrepancies in textual and numerical data.

Security And Privacy Concerns

Increased data sharing in interoperable systems raises the risk of data breaches. The healthcare sector faces significant cybersecurity threats, and interoperability efforts must address these concerns to protect sensitive patient information.

Employing robust encryption methods, implementing electronic document signatures, separating access rights according to the least privilege principle and applying a defense-in-depth strategy can help resolve security-related issues. Also, regular updates of security protocols can ensure compliance with regulations like HIPAA to fortify interoperable systems against cybersecurity threats.

Accessibility Issues

Beyond technical challenges, making health data accessible and understandable to patients for informed consent poses a significant limitation. Bridging the gap between complex medical data and patient comprehension is essential for fostering trust in interoperable healthcare systems.

Developing user-friendly interfaces that comply with the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and patient education initiatives may bridge the understanding gap. Providing accessible summaries of complex medical data empowers patients, fostering transparency and trust in interoperable healthcare systems.

How Innovative Tech Can Help

Although challenges persist, innovations such as encryption, AI and cloud-based platforms foster a future healthcare landscape of seamless information flow and improved patient outcomes.

Data Protection Technologies

In the realm of security, technologies such as encryption, secure transfer protocols, immutable data storage and AI-powered threat detection offer robust protection for shared healthcare data. These innovations help ensure that while information flows freely, it remains safeguarded from unauthorized access.

Cloud-Based Solutions

Infrastructure plays a pivotal role in interoperability, and cloud platforms emerge as a key enabler. Platforms like Google Cloud Healthcare API securely ingest, transform and store healthcare data in various formats, including FHIR, HL7v2 and DICOM.

Cloud-based analytics tools process and analyze healthcare data in real time. This enables healthcare providers to access up-to-date information, make informed decisions and enhance patient care.

Digital Consent Platforms

Developing user-friendly digital consent platforms can be a good idea to empower patients to manage access to their health information. Platforms like Apple’s Health Records API foster transparency and empower patients to make informed decisions about their data. ​​Consent management systems help ensure compliance with privacy regulations and allow patients to set preferences, giving them control over how their data is shared and utilized.

Standardization Protocols

Protocols like FHIR are gaining traction within healthcare organizations. FHIR offers a flexible and adaptable standard for the electronic exchange of healthcare data, serving as a unifying language for disparate systems. At the same time, open APIs enable different healthcare applications to communicate and share data, promoting interoperability across diverse systems.

Looking Ahead: Collective Action For Interoperability

Although the horizon of interoperability in healthcare looks promising, it requires collective action to shape a connected future. Healthcare providers play a central role, aligning their practices with interoperability standards to facilitate seamless data exchange and enhanced patient care. Patients contribute by actively participating in their healthcare journey, embracing digital tools and advocating for transparent data sharing.

Technology developers can drive innovation, creating interoperable solutions that bridge existing gaps in healthcare systems. Regulatory bodies can establish and enforce standards that guide interoperability practices, helping ensure data security and privacy.

Final Words

As we stand on the cusp of 2024, the future of interoperability in healthcare holds the promise of a more connected, efficient and patient-centric healthcare system. As technological innovations continue to unfold and collaborative efforts intensify, we can expect a transformative impact on how healthcare information is shared and accessed. The road ahead may be complex, but the destination promises a revolutionized approach to patient care.

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