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Preparing Your Healthcare IT Infrastructure for Interoperability: 6 Steps You Can Take Now

Interoperability is top of mind for many healthcare organizations. Learn about challenges IT professionals are facing when it comes to interoperability implementation and 6 steps you can take to get ready.

Saying that interoperability is a hot topic in the healthcare IT world may be the understatement of the year. Indeed, Forrester says the topic “set the stage” at this year’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) conference. As the healthcare industry marches toward a new data-driven, value-based business model where patients are at the center and information is shared by all providers and payors with a stake in patient wellbeing, the fast healthcare interoperability resources (FHIR) standard proposed by Health Level Seven (HL7) is on everyone’s radar.

But while all parties can agree that the notion of interoperability will dramatically improve healthcare and the patient experience, Forrester also points out that meaningful discussions around the ‘hows’ to make it all possible were notably absent at HIMSS 2019.

The implementation challenges with interoperability.

HIMSS defines interoperability as “the ability of different information systems, devices or applications to connect, in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational boundaries to access, exchange and cooperatively use data amongst stakeholders, with the goal of optimizing the health of individuals and populations.”

But achieving this ideal won’t be easy, to say the least. FHIR is helping to facilitate progress and remove some of the implementation barriers by creating a common, standard language for all heath IT systems. However, there is still no universally agreed upon standard or a generic, vendor-neutral data exchange platform, and as a result, adoption of technology across the many players is uneven. Other challenges revolve around finding ways to ensure the right data is matched to the right patient, making it easy and efficient for clinicians to find the needed information in shared records, shifting regulatory requirements, and ever-present cybersecurity threats. And this strategy goes beyond complicated digital tools and software strategies, and will necessitate a move of IT closer to the medical practitioners and patients – the network edge. This means healthcare IT needs to extend their physical reach to include supporting and monitoring the infrastructure that makes interoperability possible.

There are big challenges. But many in the industry are optimistic that they can and will be solved, and sooner rather than later. As the industry works through these issues and defining new standards that will overcome obstacles and make interoperability possible, individual healthcare organizations can prepare for changes on the horizon by doing their part to prepare their own internal systems and infrastructure for interoperability.

Specifically, IT organizations can:

  1. Get involved in the standards development process. A recent report by the American Hospital Association and six other leading hospital associations sets forth a national agenda for improving interoperability. The report discusses the importance of stakeholder collaboration, including “lending a voice to the development process.” One way to do this is to engage with the Interoperability Standards Advisory (ISA). ISA aims to provide the industry with a single, public list of the standards and implementation specifications that can be used to address specific clinical health information interoperability needs. The ISA holds annual public comment periods that enable healthcare providers, healthcare IT developers and other stakeholders to weigh in on the development of interoperability standards.

  2. Use relationships with vendors to encourage greater compatibility in system design. As another recommendation in the AHA report, hospitals and healthcare organizations, as buyers of healthcare IT, are encouraged to use their influence on EHR vendors and make their preferences known for product and systems that use FHIR standards. Working collaboratively with vendors and exercising procurement power can help push all parties in the right direction to facilitate interoperability.

  3. Consider standardizing healthcare IT tools across care sites. Healthcare systems are notorious for data silos within their own organizations. Finding ways to streamline data management and reducing the number of systems that clinicians have to access in order to piece together patient data can help pave the way to interoperability. This likely needs to start with a full inventory of all applications and systems currently in use. From there, IT staff can begin to identify opportunities for standardizing and simplifying their networks.

  4. Embrace APIs. According to HIMSS, APIs, or open application programming interfaces, will play a key role in achieving interoperability. They facilitate data exchange by opening up healthcare platforms to external applications. HIMSS is a proponent of APIs and their ability to improve connectivity and drive innovation and they should be factored into technology decisions and investments moving forward.

  5. Make a plan for updating or replacing legacy systems. Legacy systems can hold healthcare operations back as they attempt to adopt new standards and achieve true interoperability. However, the cost to replace or upgrade these systems is often prohibitive. Healthcare IT organizations can start by identifying and prioritizing systems that are past their prime and overdue for upgrades, and they can make a plan to phase in new systems, specifically those that facilitate interoperability, as budget allows.

  6. Invest in the resiliency, efficiency and scalability of your infrastructure at the edge. The journey toward interoperability will only add to the rapid expansion of data and new technologies within the healthcare ecosystem. With the new challenge of enabling data exchange and delivery of healthcare information wherever and whenever it’s needed, the demand for 24/7 availability becomes even greater. Healthcare systems need to ensure that the power and cooling systems that support IT are robust enough to support this demand today and into the future. Key future-proof infrastructure features include intelligence, scalability and the ability to be rapidly deployed.

How the right partners can help

There is still much work to be done to achieve the goal of true interoperability in healthcare. Collaboration between healthcare systems, developers, vendors and payors will certainly be paramount. As the industry heads toward this future, putting together a team of skilled partners and providers who understand and are committed to the vision can help guide your journey and maximize your investment at the infrastructure level, from core to edge.  Learn more about how Vertiv can help you build a stronger foundation for the future of healthcare and interoperability.


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