Interoperability (or the lack of) has recently become a high profile topic, drawing substantial national media attention. In summary, and in spite of our best collective efforts, we are still unable to ensure that individuals (or clinicians) have ready access to information about their health (or healthcare) whenever and wherever it is needed, governed by the appropriate privacy and security.
One roadblock is that healthcare stakeholders are used to working in silos, with information tailored primarily to individual requirements, or those of their organization. For decades, hospitals and other provider organizations have cobbled together systems using interfaces, focused on their specific integration needs.
When I worked in the IT department of a community-based hospital I was a willing contributor to that isolated approach which was easier to accomplish and typically addressed the immediate problem. But for decades, the healthcare industry has been talking about the need and vision for health information exchange and a multitude of well-intentioned efforts have been launched to solve the interoperability problem. And we are still not ‘there’.
Today’s healthcare environment requires information exchange across the continuum of care to ensure patient safety and improve health outcomes. Around the world, various communities are developing methods for exchanging health information among providers, patients, and other authorized parties to revolutionize the delivery of care. But to truly get ‘there,’ stakeholders need to embrace, widely adopt and implement standards-based interoperable health IT systems.
To advance this goal, IHE USA has published Interoperability for Dummies: IHE Edition, a complimentary eBook in the Wiley For Dummies format, to cut through the technical jargon that is a barrier to understanding this complex problem. As president of IHE USA, I enjoyed my role as the book editor which gave me an opportunity to help describe interoperability in its simplest terms.
The purpose of the eBook is to provide an introduction to interoperability of health data, including an understanding of the work products of Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) which are intended to be used by providers and communities for exchanging health information. IHE facilitates a consensus and standards-based approach to interoperability. And those work products, when implemented into health IT systems, can enable interoperability for essential functions such as patient identification, health document location and retrieval, patient care device integration, access to provider directories, and the protection of privacy and security.
No one working in this space can truly be labeled a dummy, but it’s hard for any of us to sift through all of the information about various interoperability initiatives and perspectives, and find the best place to get started. This book is intended to help demystify approaches for sharing information such as clinical documents, and orient readers to basic interoperability terms and specifications that will help us get ‘there’.
It’s my hope that this eBook will help readers to not only understand the value and critical nature of standards-based interoperable health IT systems and IHE’s role, but how to personally become part of the solution by implementing change in their organization. And I look forward to hearing your thoughts as you experience your own interoperability journey.