Mon | Feb 18, 2019

Health + Tech | Interoperability critical to healthcare digitisation

Published:Sunday | January 27, 2019 | 12:13 AMDoug Halsall
Doug Halsall
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Interoperability is what makes an electronic system, well a system. Connectivity is critical in any healthcare environment.

Health technology increases the rate of connectivity and access generally, but within that there also needs to be further connectivity. Interoperability is a fundamental part of this ecosystem.

Each part must be able to communicate with the other to be able to reap the full benefits of digitisation. The success of digital technology for any organisation will lie in its ability to share information across time and space with other organisations, sources, devices, whether local or foreign, in geography.

For too long technology has been approached in an uncoordinated and unconnected manner. Imagine if each brand of cell phone had its own unique set of apps that could not be accessed by other brands.

It’s bad enough for some to have two main types – Android and iOS – so what if we had thousands. That would not make for a good customer experience and many phone manufacturers, which are thriving today, would simply not make it in the industry.

The cellular phone manufacturers and application designers realised the wisdom of coordination and developed shareable platforms. This has propelled the industries to tremendous profitability, giving many a potential piece of the pie and giving the best customer experience.

Another simple example is the standardisation of railway width across Europe and the United States to facilitate seamless transportation to each independent country or state, as the case may be. Imagine how difficult getting from one place to the next would be, especially in Europe, without this connectivity.

Many in the health technology industry recognise this and understand the wisdom of interoperability, and so this must also be considered when acquiring software.

HEALTH LEVEL 7

One much used standard that facilitates interface and therefore interoperability is Health Level 7 (HL7). These are international standards related to the sharing of health and administrative information across various platforms and devices.

HL7-compatible devices can communicate with each other and are interoperable.

An institution such as a hospital usually has several functions and various computer systems to organise those functions.

If all their computer systems are HL7-compatible, then they can seamlessly link operations like inventory, registration, laboratory, electronic health records and even their accounting, billing and reconciliation functions.

HL7 allows for complete interoperability across a network which is important for a health facility. But this is not only required within a health facility. Interoperability and HL7 can go much further. Imagine being able to communicate from hospital to hospital regardless of geographic location.

So a facility in Jamaica could seamlessly share patient and other information with one in Germany through simply being interoperable via HL7 compliance.

There are many benefits to being interoperable in a healthcare setting. Staff productivity is an obvious one. If digital systems are interoperable, it means that the hospital is linked in such a way that information is easily accessible to each section without having to search or comb through paper files.

This frees up staff to do other tasks, which also saves the facility money. Protection of sensitive patient data is another. With paper files a thing of the past, digital patient information can be shared in a restricted manner — only available to those authorised to view.

Apart from the obvious reduction of errors when data is digitised, another major benefit is the improvement in public health data which gives the Government the ability to do long-term planning and properly respond to and prepare for health issues.

It is important, therefore, that when the Government decides to digitise hospitals and other health facilities they ensure that all systems are interoperable. It means that this process cannot be done in a disjointed manner.

It will also have to take into consideration what has already been done in this regard by The University Hospital of the West Indies and other local private hospitals.

Complete interoperability — public and private — with the ability to go further, to share data across international borders would be ideal. The intention in all of this is to improve the patient experience, overall patient care and population health.

- Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Feedback: Doug.halsall@gmail.com.