Interoperability of health data refers to the ability of health information systems to work simultaneously within and across organisations to advance the effective delivery of healthcare services.
There is a clear need for more effective information sharing between care settings, organisations and geographies to optimise patient outcomes and quality of care. To ensure this means healthcare organisations rely on the ability of IT systems to be interoperable with each other to deliver the future vision of care in England.
It has always been a challenge to access and share health data in a secure way due to the nature of the data being sensitive, requiring high levels of privacy and security. However, clinicians having the inability to access such data when its required can cause harm to patients.
In England, the Chief Clinical Information Officer for Health and Care has outlined seven priority areas:
- NHS number/citizen ID
- Staff ID
- Dates and scheduling
- Basic observations
- Basic pathology
- Diagnostic coding
The healthcare system requires some level of interoperability to ensure a complete understanding od an individual’s or population’s health needs, to ensure better outcomes and lower costs. Interoperability and the ability to share data are becoming increasingly vital for delivering effective healthcare due to ageing populations and people living longer.
Health data interoperability will help physicians and healthcare providers to see a more complete view of patients. This better integration allows for a better understanding to be developed of patients healthcare plans.
Better coordination of care
Having access to patient data ensures patients experience a smooth transition between health and care organisations. Health care professionals have access to real-time data at their fingertips, giving them a holistic view of patient information to support rapid discharge.
This can reduce unnecessary hospital admissions as clinicians have access to comprehensive, accurate patient data, therefore improving continuity of care. At its greatest, interoperability provides all the information held on a patient regardless of system or setting.
Also, this better transfer of care will reduce delays as clinical decisions can be made more quickly and safely upon clinicians viewing a patients medical record.
Staff performance and productivity
Better performance can be achieved by interoperability as data can be combined more easily, meaning it can also be analysed more easily. Interoperability makes it possible for organisations to study trends in data, past performance and make data-driven improvements in patient care and other areas.
Data interoperability can also reduce the number of redundant administrative work within, and outside of organisations.
Improved patient experience
Interoperability in healthcare would help alleviate some of the increased pressures felt by the NHS, exacerbated by COVID-19. It would provide a better patient experience by reducing duplication of effort, increasing time efficiency, and reducing errors.
Interoperability reduces paper work for both staff and patients, meaning neither party has to fill out repetitive forms, and staff won’t have to input this information from paper into the database. Also, patients won’t have to keep going over their situation as all the details will be on their record for staff to see and follow up with. This constant access to real-time patient data also reduces error when it comes to patient management.
Ultimately, interoperability allows clinicians to spend more time on treating patients. However, despite the clear benefits of health data interoperability, limited budgets remains a key cause for concern for many organisations.
There are hopes that by 2030, interoperability will provide healthcare professionals their desired efficiency. The future of interoperability is an aspirational, yet attainable vision to create a better healthcare system for everyone.