The urgency of healthcare interoperability

Making patient data sharable and secure requires a new way of thinking about healthcare systems.

Healthcare organizations and clinicians can benefit from breaking down the barriers that currently divide the global healthcare ecosystem. When applications, devices, and systems can interact and exchange healthcare information in real time, healthcare providers can operate more efficiently, streamline the patient experience, and provide more personalized patient care.

Healthcare interoperability promises to improve medical research, as well. If anonymous patient information and clinical data is shared more openly, scientists can use aggregated healthcare information to develop new medications, vaccines, and procedures at a much faster pace. And when new public health threats emerge, hospitals could more easily share data sets to determine which treatments and protocols would be most effective at scale.

Demand for digital medical records is on the rise: The global electronic health records market is expected to grow by 44% between 2021 and 2028.

However, most healthcare data is currently siloed in separate systems, making it difficult for healthcare providers to share information—or even use it internally. That means healthcare providers, payers, and researchers can only see a small piece of the picture. To open the aperture, healthcare organizations need to create an ecosystem where applications, devices, and systems can interact and exchange healthcare information on demand.

But that’s a complicated proposition. Making medical records sharable and secure requires a new way of thinking about healthcare systems. Rather than each healthcare organization building walls around its own closed system, the healthcare industry needs a shared set of rules that govern how patient data and other health information can be accessed, exchanged, and stored.

Interoperability standards build bridges

The recent pandemic highlighted how crucial collaboration can be. Plus, new regulations mandate a new level of patient access to health data—and require healthcare providers and health plans to exchange large quantities of health information faster than ever.

However, when each healthcare organization uses its own data standards and systems, sharing electronic health records (EHR) is inefficient—and far less secure.

Data standards open the door to partnerships that weren’t possible before. 

The Philips Future Health Index 2021 found that difficulties with data management (44%) and lack of healthcare interoperability and data standards (37%) present the biggest barriers to adoption of digital health information technology in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

To enable better health information exchange, countries have started to adopt shared standards in several key areas, including:

  • Data format standards, such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)
  • Data content standards, such as the United States Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI)
  • Data transmission methods, such as representational state transfer application programming interfaces (REST APIs)

By creating a common language and a common approach to healthcare data sharing, standards open the door to partnerships that weren’t possible before. Open data exchange can spark game-changing innovations that could reshape the healthcare industry—and allow each provider to get a more comprehensive view of a patient’s health.

Cybersecurity starts with zero trust

Healthcare data breaches put patients at risk for identity theft and other types of fraud, and they can be financially devastating for healthcare organizations. While most data breaches are costly, healthcare has had the highest industry cost per breach for 12 consecutive years, according to IBM Security’s 2022 Cost of a Data Breach Report.

Protecting patient data in a connected global ecosystem requires a cybersecurity model that is holistic, multilayered, and event driven. It demands healthcare providers go beyond complying with key regulations, such as HIPAA and GDPR. It takes a zero trust approach.

In 2022, the average cost of a healthcare data breach rose to $10.10 million per incident, up from $9.23 million in 2021.

Zero trust is a dynamic framework for cybersecurity that assumes a data breach has already occurred with a healthcare IT system. It protects patient records by going beyond perimeter-based controls, verifying users through a combination of access controls, identity management, and contextual data. With zero trust, health IT systems can adjust permissions based on circumstance or context, which helps organizations be more flexible, responsive, and open.

Download the report to learn how new forms of collaboration, data exchanges, and decision making could streamline care coordination, improve patient outcomes, and revolutionize the entire healthcare industry. 

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Meet the authors

Ryan Hodgin

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, IT Executive, US Healthcare Organization

Rohit Pandey

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, Solution and Industry Architect, Healthcare and Life Sciences, IBM India

Somasundaram Raman

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, Practice Area Leader and Healthcare SME, Business Transformation Consultant, IBM India

Jeff Wright

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, Enterprise Architect, Merative

Originally published 25 August 2022