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How can healthcare organizations achieve meaningful interoperability?


The current state of interoperability in healthcare

2 min read

When significant changes arrive for an industry, it’s often referred to as an inflection point. In the case of interoperability in healthcare, this inflection point seems overdue. The health industry has long struggled with effective ways to connect and share health data. Progress has been made, but not fast enough.

In a study of US nonfederal acute care hospitals, only 56% reported that their providers have necessary information electronically available from outside sources.1

Other industries have faced—and successfully navigated—similar challenges in securely sharing sensitive data. The financial industry is a good example. Accessing an account balance or transferring funds used to require a trip to a local bank branch or at least an ATM. But as the demand for digital services grew, disruptive apps, such as Square and Venmo, pushed the entire industry to find ways to make data and services securely accessible from anywhere. Now the financial industry is so digitally friendly that a global pandemic barely affected its functioning.

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Interoperability is really about the ability to share information seamlessly within our industry. ”
Michael Curry, Vice President, IBM Watson Health

“Interoperability is really about the ability to share information seamlessly within our industry,” said Michael Curry, Vice President of IBM Watson Health. “Driving that sharing across providers and payers and the patients themselves [gives you] much more fluidity in the data and much more transparency across the end-to-end process than what we have today.”


Drivers of interoperability

4 min read

Several factors are compelling the health industry to pursue interoperability:

1. Seeking a better way of working

The ability to seamlessly access, analyze and share data has significant benefits for health organizations and the people they serve. Caregivers can make more informed decisions when they have access to more complete patient data. Payers can better understand what services members are seeking. Government health and human services leaders can more quickly connect citizens with the services they need. Researchers can target innovative advances in care and drug development.

Organizational leaders know that interoperable systems can help their employees succeed, and they are prioritizing them accordingly. By 2025, 65% of CIOs will implement ecosystem, application and infrastructure control systems founded on interoperability, flexibility, scalability, portability and timeliness, according to IDC.2

By 2025, 65% of CIOs will implement systems founded on interoperability, flexibility, scalability, portability and timeliness. 2
Explore interoperability solutions that can assist health organizations in securely accessing and sharing data.

2. Complying with mandates and regulations

Recognizing the importance of sharing health data, governments around the world have introduced regulations to advance interoperability within and between organizations. According to Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc., “Public policy efforts have the potential to drive forward frameworks for trusted exchange, align and educate stakeholders on existing and emerging standards, and broaden stakeholder participation to ensure an inclusive exchange ecosystem for care coordination and continuity.”3

Some of these mandates have been difficult and expensive to implement without actually solving interoperability problems because of variations in how data is entered and system incompatibilities between vendors. This has left many in the healthcare industry frustrated with the lack of progress. Current mandates are addressing these issues by requiring organizations to implement stronger digital standards for encoding and transferring data, such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR).

3. Meeting consumer expectations

Increasingly, people expect to be able to access information about their care with ease. Individuals are entitled to transparency in price, quality and performance data to make value-driven choices for their care. They should have secure access to their own healthcare data and the ability to share it as needed. This expectation has been strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic as people increasingly need to rely on digital, remote healthcare information and services.

Individuals are entitled to transparency in price, quality and performance data to make value-driven choices for their care.

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Why committing to interoperability matters

3 min read

The seamless exchange of health data is not only the right thing for organizations to do—it’s the smart thing to do to work toward their goals of digital transformation. By enabling data interoperability, organizations can bring together fragmented data to reveal a more complete picture of their data and the insights it holds.

These insights can drive improved business decisions for more efficient organizations and clinical decisions for more informed care.

Benefits of interoperability
Interoperability improves individuals’ experiences.
A unified view of the health information for an individual patient, member or citizen creates a single source of truth for that individual. This information gives caregivers and service providers a better understanding of that person, which improves their ability to coordinate care or offer the services that individual needs.
Interoperability helps organizations make informed decisions.
Better access to population data can accelerate research and innovation. Health trends are revealed, and groups or conditions can be identified that may require enhanced services or research. In addition, collated health data can reveal utilization trends, helping organizations improve their ability to manage risk and create operational value.

The role of hybrid cloud for fuller interoperability

A data strategy that incorporates hybrid cloud is foundational to unlocking interoperability both within and outside organizations.

An open hybrid cloud enables organizations to build and manage across any cloud with a common platform, so they can scale, move and secure data easily across on-premises and cloud environments. Hybrid cloud capabilities give organizations across the health and life sciences industries the ability to combine, enhance and analyze complex healthcare data sets—including clinical, claims, sociodemographic, financial and operational data.

See how developers are using open-source technology to help make health data easier to manage, store and share.

How to move forward

4 min read

IBM® Watson Health® is committed not just to helping organizations manage compliance with mandates but helping them use the power of interoperability to improve business insights and clinical decisions.

Read on to explore how Watson Health is enabling interoperability in different areas of the health industry.

How payers and government health and human services can meet the mandate—and more

Through its oversight of CMS, the US government is requiring commercial and government payer organizations to meet interoperability mandates as laid out by the 21st Century Cures Act. These mandates include implementation of standards-based FHIR APIs in 2021 to improve the electronic exchange of healthcare data with patients, providers or other payers.

Watson Health is ready to assist payers in meeting the mandate and going beyond to better engage their members, compete more effectively in their market and digitally transform their organizations.

Explore these interoperability solutions for payers:

Implement a server that meets industry standards and goes beyond to capitalize on data, analytics and AI capabilities.
Take advantage of an intuitive and scalable API platform that lets you create, expose, manage and monetize APIs across clouds in a secured way.
Manage patient consent requests, share health data and automate audit trails to help meet security and privacy needs and manage compliance with CMS mandates.

Healthcare providers can gain the complete patient picture

To provide informed patient care, it’s crucial that healthcare providers have access to longitudinal patient records and medical images. Physicians and patients alike benefit when caregivers can make informed decisions based on thorough patient records. The organization also benefits when its data can be analyzed to drive business and care decisions.

Male medical professional in full PPE looking at two monitor screens and touching a button

Learn more about interoperability solutions for providers:

Receive an interoperability maturity assessment with prioritized use cases and capabilities to develop an execution roadmap while moving toward digital transformation.
Deploy a vendor-neutral archive to store, manage and share medical images enterprise wide from disparate PACS, specialties, service lines and sites, regardless of source or format.

Foster connectivity for clinical trials

Interoperability solutions are critical for those building decentralized clinical trials, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. Data should be gathered through intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces to encourage participant compliance.

Integrate clinical trial data and take advantage of a unified platform that’s compatible with third-party vendors for a robust clinical trial solution.
1 Yuriy Pylypchuk, PhD; Christian Johnson, MPH; Vashali Patel, PhD MPH. State of Interoperability among U.S. Non-federal Acute Care Hospitals in 2018 (PDF, 487 KB).The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, ONC Data Brief, No. 51, March 2020.
2 IDC FutureScape: Worldwide CIO Agenda 2021 Predictions, Doc #US46010920, Oct 2020
3 Interoperability in Healthcare, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc., 2021.