Interoperability: A long word, a simple concept

With hundreds of thousands of types of software available on the healthcare technology market today, interoperability has become somewhat of a buzzword, yet many people don’t understand what it actually means, nor that it encompasses so much more than just software. It is not enough that software is written to accommodate taxonomies and standards. Interoperability involves all of the processes, structures, people, software, and hardware that allow information to flow seamlessly and accurately through the healthcare system. Since the long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) sector is at the epicenter of the healthcare industry and involves many human and technical components, it is essential that LPTAC professionals have a solid grasp on the concept of interoperability.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology states that “interoperability ensures that health-related information flows seamlessly from General Practitioner, to Specialist, to Hospital, to Patient. In other words, the patient’s information follows the patient regardless of geographic, organizational, or vendor boundaries. Specifically, interoperability refers to the architecture or standards that make it possible for diverse electronic health record (EHR) systems to work compatibly in a true information network.”

This means that for a software system to be considered truly interoperable, many elements must be taken into consideration including how various users interact with the application software, how the systems communicate with one another, how information is uploaded, stored, processed, and managed, and how the application interacts with clinicians, patients, consumers, and medical devices. Most importantly, it is essential that while remaining interoperable that a system follows all federal, state, and internal guidelines and regulations and abides by all dictates of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and internal quality standards.

Over the next few months, we will be presenting a series of articles on interoperability essentials, considerations, and best practices for processes, structures, people, software, and hardware  in the long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) industry.