Interoperability in Healthcare: Benefits and Challenges

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By Leo Petersen-Khmelnitski

Interoperability brings clear benefits to healthcare, but also experiences challenges in deployment. This article covers both aspects. Benefits first, then challenges.


Increased Productivity

Healthcare systems and healthcare providers have a great deal to do with productivity. Health care providers are more likely to spend time with their patients than with technology. Interoperability will allow healthcare providers to access data from different systems in an optimized way. When computer systems and databases are set up for interoperability, you will see a noticeable increase in productivity, from lowering the amount of the same data being redundantly entered (sometimes multiple times) alone, to speeding up document processing.

Better Cost Efficiency

Productivity improves when interoperability is in place. IT departments are under pressure over whether they have the expertise and bandwidth to share information and data across systems. As a result, information systems are often delayed during the deployment process. In conjunction with digitization and interoperability, the combination of both will reduce the amount of paperwork, thus reducing the development cost of a health application, giving rise to greater cost-effectiveness.

Improved Patient Care

A key component of improving patient care is interoperability. The right information at the right time ultimately helps improve decision-making. Interoperability can also provide a decision support system that can provide important information for improving healthcare outcomes.

Better Patients Experience

When interoperability is in place, paperwork is reduced for staff and patients. There will be no need for staff to rekey information from paper forms into the database, and patients won’t have to fill out the same repetitive forms. Patients will not have to keep explaining their situation since their record will contain all the information. It will be available to any staff member who needs to see it before consultation or follow-up.

Improved Public Health Data

In the absence of any other conditions, COVID-19 data has demonstrated the importance of interoperability. There will be no disparities in healthcare with the standardization of interoperability. As well as enabling stakeholders to receive an accurate and transparent picture of public health, interoperability will help stakeholders to make informed decisions. Interpretation of the data will lead to more effective recommendations for health.

Fewer errors

The cost of a medical error can be high wherever it occurs, regardless of its location. In terms of patient care, data entry errors and updates can have drastic consequences. Because medical data and histories are essential to saving lives, any healthcare provider should have access to them. While some errors do not involve life or death, they still have the potential to damage the reputation of healthcare providers, as well as endanger the lives of patients. In addition to reducing errors through the automation of data entry processes, interoperable systems assist hospitals and other healthcare facilities in providing better care for patients.

Improved data safety

Health data is protected by interoperability. Employees no longer have to type in the same information about a patient repeatedly. Instead, the system gets the details it needs from the patient’s electronic health record. It is also less likely that criminal hackers will gain access to patient information if there are fewer people who touch the records.

Better research

Researchers can benefit greatly from the data that is amassed during the course of diagnosing and treating patients. To conduct epidemiology studies or to review the efficacy of a particular treatment method, scientists use interoperability to connect their computers with those of healthcare providers.

Easier data exchange

Healthcare staff will need to share a variety of information with others. Due to the interoperability of healthcare databases, when patient is referred to an x-ray taken earlier that day, the images will pop up on the screen. The patient’s pharmacy can also be contacted electronically


Managing inconsistent information across multiple sources

Large healthcare networks have a difficult time managing inconsistent information across their networks, particularly health IT vendors. Consequently, providers place data in multiple, often disparate, locations

Providing patient information in response to electronic requests

Keeping patient health records private and secure can be a challenge for healthcare providers

Organisational restrictions on data sharing

It is in the interests of some actors in the healthcare industry not to share their data. Take for instance the competition between hospital systems and urgent care clinics. A hospital’s EHR system is unlikely to be motivated to share patient data with an urgent care clinic. However, the law requires that health data be accessible to patients and across organizational boundaries.

Managing interoperability costs a lot of money

Interoperability of EHRs is a difficult task. It is impossible for one person to manage this daily task in most healthcare settings – much less have the qualifications to do so. However, finding someone who is qualified to maintain EHR interoperability can be costly, especially for smaller organizations.

The US and several EU countries have made data easily accessible a requirement

This places mandatory burden on healthcare providers, to establish internal business procedures that comply with these requirements, to make their health data available

Health records are not standardized

Even though the use of FHIR and HL7 is growing, and new regulations push vendors to provide APIs to support interoperability, many providers and healthcare systems use customized EHR systems that can be difficult to convert to standard formats.

Security threats on the rise

As cyberattacks on healthcare systems increase, it becomes harder for healthcare organizations to balance the need to access health information with the need to maintain patient privacy and secure sensitive information.

Consent issues

When designing digital health systems in which health information flows freely from one provider to another, it is not always apparent when a patient’s consent is needed or at what level. Clearly, healthcare organizations are cautious and tend to avoid sharing information.

Issues with digital literacy

People have to learn how to use new recordkeeping tools when they are introduced. Healthcare professionals are often hesitant to adopt new systems since EHRs generally support administrative and billing workflows better than clinicians’ needs.

Lack of partnerships

Interoperability is not identified as an industry in its own right as yet, hence there is a lack of partnerships observed at present. To make two or several healthcare providers interoperable is a task with an extraordinary level of complexity. Collaboration and orchestration by several healthcare stakeholders is usually required, while healthcare to a large extent remains a scattered and a siloed domain.