Health IT Interoperability Pulling Ahead?

I’m not what you’d call a huge fan of horse racing, but I’ve watched enough Triple Crown events to know how exciting it can be when a dark horse contender suddenly breaks from the pack and spurs the front runner. In some ways, I feel that could be the case with healthcare interoperability, which has been viewed as a rank outsider for so long now that it’s tempting to lose sight of its promise.

Sure, the healthcare industry continues to struggle with adoption and implementation issues, but over the past three months steps have been taken to help advance the seamless exchange of vital information among healthcare providers.

As Joyce Sensmeier, IHE USA president and HIMSS vice president of informatics, reminded us in early January, the recent collaboration among IHE USA, ONC, and S&I Framework should result in all groups working in the same direction and leveraging for the same purpose. This move stemmed from recognition of the increasing need for interoperability capability in order to achieve meaningful use Stage 3 goals.

Without question, the lack of interoperability has been siphoning efficiency and enthusiasm from health care professionals and stalling progress. But that’s why the new ONC chief, Karen DeSalvo, MD, dubbed interoperability a “top priority” in early February and outlined five key goals to advance the nation’s triple aim of improving care, improving the health of populations, and lowering the per capita costs of healthcare.

Most recently, as Forbes reports, the FHIR software standard prototype is drawing the interest of several high profile projects, including the CommonWell Heath Alliance. Among its benefits: FHIR specification is free for use with no restrictions; it’s strongly focused on implementation; it has a solid foundation in Web standards, such as XML and HTTP; there’s support for RESTful architectures; and, it supports seamless exchange of information using messages or documents.

If FHIR rings a bell, you probably recall it from HIMSS14, where it generated significant buzz.

Although interoperability has been a troublesome pony in the health reform race, it’s clear that it’s now receiving attention on a grand scale—and once problems are identified, complex though they may be, it’s usually just a matter of time until they get solved. Interoperability is no different.

What questions do you have about interoperability?

As a B2B journalist, John Farrell has covered healthcare IT since 1997 and is the Intel Health & Life Sciences sponsored correspondent.

Read John’s other blog posts