Healthcare Tech

What is ‘interoperability’?

Interoperability could make treating patients and disease tracking much easier.
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The word “interoperability” may sound complicated, but the concept behind it is actually pretty simple. Say you wake up in the middle of the night with shooting pains in your abdomen and go to the ER. Your ER doctor may want to do some blood work, but that was done at a primary care visit last week. Your ER doc pulls up those bloodwork results on their computer, so you don’t need to get bloodwork done again, as Advanced Data Systems explains.

That’s interoperability in a nutshell—being able to share patient information easily between different doctors and computer systems to make patient care easier (and save costs, like unnecessary blood tests). Full interoperability would also mean this imagined ER doc would have been alerted upfront that the bloodwork was done, so the onus isn’t on the patient.

That’s not possible today, given that many systems in healthcare are unable to communicate with each other, according to Amit Trivedi, senior director of informatics and health IT standards at the nonprofit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Getting to that point will take significant change and investment in new technology.

But when it comes to adopting new technology, the healthcare industry “tends to be conservative and risk averse, because at the end of the day, any change has to be looked at through the lens of patient safety,” Trivedi said.

Despite that, change is coming. In a big step toward increasing interoperability, an Oct. 6 federal rule now requires that healthcare facilities give patients access to their complete digital health records.

The healthcare industry is working to advance interoperability because it would make patient care a lot easier if providers were able to access a fuller understanding of a patient’s health history. It would also have big implications on population health, as it would give regulators, like the CDC, a much fuller picture of who’s contracting diseases and where, Trivedi said.

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