The health information technology lexicon is ever-changing. Buzzwords like “big data,” “Internet of Things,” or “popHealth” would mean little to a healthcare provider 20 years ago.

Among these modern medicine words commonly heard in the industry is “interoperability.” But what does it mean? 

According to the 21st Century Cures Act, interoperability in health IT means health information technology that:

(A) enables the secure exchange of electronic health information with, and use of electronic health information from, other health information technology without special effort on the part of the user;

(B) allows for complete access, exchange, and use of all electronically accessible health information for authorized use under applicable State or Federal law;” and 

(C) does not constitute information blocking as defined in section 3022(a).

All of this to say, interoperable healthcare IT systems should be more adept at exchanging data between other devices and other systems, and interpreting and storing data.

According to the Healthcare Information Management System Society (HIMSS), there are three levels of interoperability. The first level is foundational interoperability. This level only requires an exchange of data between two systems without interpretation. 

The second is structural interoperability, which requires structured or formatted data can be exchanged and stored somewhere in the system receiving it. 

The third, and final, level is semantic interoperability. This level requires interpretation and use of the data to improve patient care and patient safety, and to assist providers in their treatment decisions. 

Interoperability can drastically improve health care operations as a whole and has benefits in nearly every aspect of the clinical experience. Consider the following:

  • Better patient understanding: By having the technology to share data easily with your patient’s other providers, clinics can produce a more detailed description of the patient’s health. This can illuminate patient conditions that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, prevent unnecessary surgery or reveal side effects in specific medications. And when patients feel confident in your clinic’s ability to provide quality care, they’re much more likely to return in the future.
  • Stronger revenue cycle management (RCM): An electronic health record (EHR) system that integrates RCM can pull the correct data directly and file thousands of claims at once without losing accuracy. By filing claims more quickly and accurately, clinics can reduce their rate of denials and get paid faster. 
  • Faster response time to changing health care needs: As evidenced by COVID-19, the healthcare landscape is changing. Patients have been forced to go to unfamiliar facilities and use telehealth solutions; more and more patients even prefer to use telehealth than schedule in-person appointments. Clinics that have a stronger data exchange can better treat those patients than clinics that rely on outdated legacy systems. Interoperable systems also make it easier to change technology as necessary. 

In part 2, we will look at how interoperable systems give patients more control over their care along with HiMS solutions for you to consider implementing in your clinic to achieve interoperability.