Interoperability Is Not a Mythical Creature

By Cheryl Flury

In a recent article in Hospital and Health Networks, Joe Flower (healthcare futurist and CEO of The Change Project) discussed interoperability and specifically, the lack of it in healthcare. Joe said “Interoperability and the secure, reliable, accountable exchange of data is not some kind of wild, impossible fantasy that vendors are struggling to make real. It is, in fact, the norm in electronic communication today. […] Imagine what the financial world would look like if their IT vendors had convinced each bank and brokerage to build software that would not talk to anybody else's. Interconnectivity is normal. The reason it's not normal in health care is that some or most of the vendors don't want it to be normal.”
 
So why wouldn’t software vendors want this to be normal?  Why are vendors continually trying to convince hospitals that interoperability among systems is too difficult or even impossible?  Joe went on to say “Because they want you to stay in their walled garden, buying only their products. They do it for market share, that's all.”
 
Building software that talks to other software is good for everyone. Just like in other industries and in large, global supply chains, systems that can share information – seamlessly passing data among them – create more productivity, smarter decision making and better run, more efficient businesses.
 
Today’s highly proprietary systems are hurting healthcare. As provider organizations shape into new models of care delivery – with care taking place in wide range of locations, from a traditional hospital to an outpatient surgery center, a renal care clinic, a rehab facility or even the patient’s home – it’s going to become even more important to have systems that connect these locations and share data among them, easily and securely.  
 
Joe concluded “The idea that interoperability is difficult or impossible is a con. In a classic case of an industry driving government decisions, neither the HITECH Act, nor the Affordable Care Act, nor the regulations implementing meaningful use have prevented the con and demanded true interoperability.
We, as an industry, have largely fallen for the con. Some of us have been running our own con, trying to use a lack of interoperability to build our own ‘walled gardens’ and gain market share. In a world of ACOs, population health management, and shifting partnerships and affiliations, that attitude is frustrating our doctors, hobbling our strategies and killing patients.”
 
Joe is definitely on to something here:  more openness, connectedness and interoperability are needed for healthcare to become a more efficient industry.  (To read the full article, visit:  Why Your Hospital Should Ditch Its IT System)