Interoperability and Health Information Exchange

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Monday, 01 April 2013 14:27

One of the hottest trends in the implementation of EHR systems these days is the idea  of interoperability.  It is all the talk, but what is it and why is it so important to the success of Health Information Exchange.


Defining Interoperability


Quite simply the IEEE Standard Computer Dictionary defines interoperability as “the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.”


Note the two key words highlighted in the definition above; exchange and use.  Exchange is a prerequisite for interoperability, but it is only part of it.


HiResWhy it is important


Adoption of Electronic Health Records is on the rise; more than half of Chief Information Officers report that they have an operational EHR.  But Healthcare stakeholders argue that mere adoption of EHR is not enough and for there to be a true impact on health outcomes, an open sharing of the data from health records - interoperability - must be made possible.


Adoption of interoperability standards can have many benefits such as reduced duplication of services and data entry.  Improved data exchange can help improve patient care while driving down costs.  Making use of interoperable technologies can improve patient care and help eliminate waste and therefore increase the value of the technology.  This then becomes a win-win situation for both patient and provider because the IT cost goes down as it’s value goes up.


Here is an illustration of the benefits of interoperability by virtue of it’s absence.  Consider a situation where a hospital physician writes a prescription for a patient. The hospital has an EHR system in place but the pharmacy does not., thus preventing the hospital and the pharmacy from sharing information with each other.


Since the doctor can’t access the patient’s pharmacy information, the doctor cannot learn whether the patient filled the prescription.  As a result, the chances go up that the patient will be readmitted to the hospital because of, say, either not filling the prescription or not taking them properly. Unnecessary hospital admissions are costly to patients and to the healthcare system as a whole.  According to industry estimates, unnecessary admissions cause $30 billion in waste annually.


An interoperability standard can facilitate the secure exchange of health information which has been shown to facilitate safer, more efficient care by a) providing greater visibility into patients’ health information - the opposite of the example illustrated above - and b) by avoiding such things as harmful drug interactions and duplicate testing and exam.  A study in Boston showed 20 percent of patients who transferred to another hospital underwent duplicate and unnecessary tests; tests that had been performed at the other hospital within the previous 12 hours!


True interoperability will enable better workflows, reduced ambiguity, and allow seamless data transfer among disparate systems and health care stakeholders. Ultimately, an interoperable environment, facilitated by developing standards, will improve the delivery of healthcare by making the right data available at the right time to the right people.  We at CoreTech Revolution  are working with the Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE) to facilitate just such interoperability.  For more information about us and our work with IHIE, please contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


~ Steve Barnes