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Healthcare Interoperability Standards

The supposed future of care delivery
Health data is highly sensitive, the breach of which can lead to dire consequences. Care coordination to the deliverance of quality care demands the secure sharing of this sensitive data between different users, systems, and processes without the involvement of a large workforce. This is where interoperability takes its stand.
Jake is a software developer who wishes to make a difference with his code. He has seen his father’s ambition grow from a small clinic to a public hospital. With the business scaling, there is a need for better coordination. Jake is willing to help out his father with an efficient and comprehensive system that allows the seamless sharing of information within and outside the hospital ecosystem.

The answer to his pursuit is Healthcare Interoperability.

A vital aspect of health information technology (HIT), interoperability, is the ultimate answer to all processes and systems feeding off information exchange.

Interoperability in the healthcare industry provides ordained users and systems access to all sorts of healthcare data. This aids healthcare providers, or payers in making data-driven decisions to improve patient outcomes and streamline care management.

“As more and more healthcare providers have adopted the technology, we’re getting to the point of true exchange.” ~ Dr. Vindell Washington, principal deputy national coordinator at ONC, talking about healthcare interoperability, as told to Healthcare Dive, a leading online journal.

Interoperability Standards: The What, The Why

Setting base of data exchange
Interoperability standards enable the seamless shari ng of data between health information systems (HISs). A set of guidelines and protocols help define the proper communication and information exchange process between different health systems.
Compliance with these standards is the priority while creating or investing in interoperable healthcare solutions. These standards set a base of data flow harmonization, which provides a foundation for systems requiring an exchange of data.
Jake’s software solution must be thoroughly compliant with interoperability standards, which will provide his solution with a common language that will facilitate the easy sharing and interpretation of data. Thus, his solution will easily communicate with all health information exchange systems and applications and manage data privacy and security standards.

The Existing Healthcare Interoperability Standards

Ensuring data accuracy, completeness, and consistency
Healthcare Interoperability Standards chart
Out of all the existing standards, HL7 and FHIR are the most popular ones.

Organizations Developing Interoperability Standards

Major players in the market
Besides the above-mentioned HL7 and ISO, several other organizations are responsible for developing and maintaining healthcare interoperability standards.
ONC, i.e., Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, is another player taking up space in the interoperability standards market. ONC is responsible for promoting the adoption and implementation of healthcare interoperability standards in the United States.
The non-profit organization, Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) is responsible for developing technical frameworks and profiles that enable the interoperability of healthcare systems and applications.

How Are These Standards Implemented and Enforced by Healthcare Organizations?

The rules behind the game

Implementing standards need their respective adherence rules to be followed by healthcare organizations. 

  • Standard terminologies, formats, and protocols are to be adopted to enable data exchange in a standardized format.
  • The systems and apps must be interoperable with other systems and applications that use the same standards.
  • The healthcare systems and apps must be tested and validated to comply with interoperability standards.
  • All vendors and partners need to comply with interoperability standards.

Challenges to Achieving Healthcare Interoperability Standards

Barriers to growth

Despite the benefits of interoperability, there are several barriers to adopting it completely:

Standardization Issues
Healthcare data is stored in different data sources in different formats, which makes it harder to maintain a standard. This makes integration difficult. The lack of standardization in healthcare data can lead to data quality issues, loss, and increased costs.

Data Privacy and Security
Healthcare data contain sensitive information that must be protected to maintain patient privacy and confidentiality. The need for thorough data security can make sharing data between different healthcare systems difficult.

Old School Legacy Systems
Despite the many advantages of adopting interoperability, many healthcare organizations still rely on legacy systems that are incompatible with modern health IT systems. Replacing legacy systems can be costly and time-consuming, making it difficult for organizations to adopt new standards and technologies.

Lack of Financial Incentives
Organizations often fail to see the bigger picture; as such, the shift to interoperable solutions can appear to be a waste of investment. Without financial incentives, providers may appear reluctant to adopt new standards.

Lack of Technical Expertise
Implementing interoperability requires technical expertise and resources that may not be available to all healthcare organizations. Small and rural healthcare organizations, in particular, may struggle to implement interoperability due to limited resources.

The hospital’s management and care delivery models must adopt Jake’s interoperable solution, despite the lack of initial financial incentives. Jake’s father must focus on the bigger picture for his organization’s lucrative and sustainable future. 


In addition, Jake should ensure that his father’s hospital follows certain steps such that his interoperable solution functions at its best. Thus, efficient management and delivery of quality care will be possible when the data circulated is standardized and interoperability standards implemented.


Successful Case of Standard Implementation
A project was run out of the Boston Children’s Hospital Computational Health Informatics Program to nourish an ecosystem that drives the future of healthcare. An evolving ecosystem meant evolving innovations and technologies. This need led to an open, standards-based technology platform, SMART Health IT.
Several major healthcare organizations use this platform to develop and implement interoperable health IT solutions. Thus, it works as an interface between healthcare data and innovation.

SMART on FHIR is a beloved standard that combines the adaptability of FHIR with the safety and privacy of OAuth2. With FHIR APIs, third-party applications can safely access health data from various healthcare systems.

To give patients the authority to manage who can access their health information, SMART on FHIR offers a uniform and standardized method for managing user authentication, authorization, and consent. The standard is also compatible with current healthcare standards like HL7 and DICOM.
HL7 vs. SMART on FHIR: Which is the better choice?
Blockchain and CDS Hooks

The Future of Safe Exchange

Interoperability is vital in today’s world, and interoperability standards ensure the seamless transmission of health data between various healthcare systems, providers, and stakeholders. These standards provide flexibility, security, and compatibility for ensuring the safe exchange of information.
TechVariable is committed to helping you find the ideal solution to meet your healthcare organization's goals.
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