As consumers, we expect that when we bank, our ATM card will work in any machine worldwide, dispensing the cash we need and sending the record back to our home financial institution. Similarly, we would be enraged if we bought a new MacBook and couldn’t access our Gmail or load Microsoft Office. We expect this level of connection in so many aspects of our lives. Yet we accept a great deal less from health care than we do from our ATM cards and MacBooks.
How we got to this state is a long and complicated story. Health care has had few incentives to open up to innovation. Hospitals and physician groups have worked on their own closed information systems, hoarding data to keep their care in-network and maintain market share. This practice discouraged innovation and created a generation of ugly, unusable, and disconnected technology that has failed woefully to connect care for patients.
Leonard Kish, Principal at VivaPhi, sat down with Ed Park, COO of athenaHealth, to discuss how interoperability is defined, and how it might be accelerating faster than we think.
LK: Ed, how do you define interoperability?
EP: Interoperability is the ability for different systems to exchange information and then use that information in a way that is helpful to the users. It’s not simply just the movement of data, it’s the useful movement of it to achieve some sort of goal that the end user can use and understand and digest.
LK: So do you have measures of interoperability you use?
EP: The way we think about interoperability is in three major tiers. The first strata (1) for interoperability can be defined by the standard HL7 definitions that have been around for the better part of three decades at this point. Those are the standard pipes that are being built all the time. So lab interoperability, prescription interoperability, hospital discharge summary interoperability. Those sort of basic sort of notes that are encapsulated in HL7. The second tier (2) of interoperability we are thinking about is the semantic interoperability that has been enabled by meaningful use. The most useful thing that meaningful use did from an interop standpoint was to standardize all the data dictionaries. And by that I mean that they standardized the medication data dictionary, the immunizations, allergies and problems.