FAQ #10 - What is Interoperability in Healthcare?

Healthcare Interoperability FAQ Series

FAQ #10: What is interoperability in healthcare information systems?


Interoperability in healthcare information systems refers to the systems’ ability to communicate with each other, and to flow information or certain elements of information from one to the other, or between two systems. Interoperability refers to how these two systems communicate with each other. And the process of interoperability really is like two systems speaking the same language in order to communicate.
There’s typically an ETL process, exporting, transforming and loading of information to make sure that it is translated into the language that the other system can consume. But the real key is that that piece of data is coded or identified in a way that each system knows what it maps to on the other system.
For example, let’s take the first name of a person on one system and the first name of another person on another system. One system codes or identifies it in a way that’s slightly different from what the other system does. Then when you go to transport the information from one to the other, it’s not a direct match. The new rules around interoperability, have solved that problem by requiring that everybody, health plan payers, EHR/ EMR vendors, providers, service providers, ensure that their systems are communicating based on the SMART on FHIR standards.
So, in other words, a piece of information about a client’s health now has a code, and the other system must be able to consume and identify that code in the same way.
All of these systems and EHR vendors that have evolved over time have their own data models, and their own way of coding things. We take an existing system without modifying anything about its data model and give it this efficient SMART on FHIR layer, making it system-compliant in a short period of time with very little cost. Everybody has to meet the rule. And once everybody’s on the standard, then of course, now we have a seamless connection due to the standardizing of coding as well as the rules around API and the way in which systems communicate with each other.
So now you’ve got this seamless way in which patients, for example, will be able to come in through a patient app on their phone. Apple, for example, already has it incorporated into the Health app where you can go and look for your healthcare provider, vendor, EHR or systems containing personal information about you. And since these processes are all going to be standardized, it’s removed a lot of complexity around how each of these systems work, and the challenges around getting them to communicate in the same language.


Dr. Ralph Tarter

Dr. Weatherbee has spent decades working in education, behavioral health, public health, and more. He has experienced the unique challenges that exist in this field from multiple disciplines. His work in program evaluation lead him to create eINSIGHT to empower behavioral health service providers to improve client outcomes.