Katya Samardina

Breaking Down Barriers to Interoperability

July 22, 2017


Increasing interoperability has become a pragmatic goal for healthcare providers. Patient-centered healthcare is proving invaluable in ensuring the best health outcomes for patients. It’s now essential to have efficient and secure care coordination between caregivers, providers, and stakeholders. So what would stop a provider from embracing new technology and systems that point toward this outcome?

There are numerous barriers that stand in the way of progressing toward a more efficient, interoperable system. The process of overcoming these barriers can be daunting, but understanding the reasonable barriers to technology adoption makes us better equipped to encourage uptake.

One barrier is individual reluctance to undergo a complete overhaul of IT systems. However, there are several issues with legacy systems that need addressing. Many hospitals and clinics are still reliant on paper and fax to transmit information, which is far from ideal due to issues around reliability, efficiency, and integrity of information. Yet changing systems for the sake of change is not only tedious, it can be counterproductive. People are creatures of habit, and rapid, total overhauls can be highly disruptive to workflows. It’s important to sell people on an idea first by showing the vast benefits a new system has. This means working with internal stakeholders and change-makers to find out how best to overcome natural antipathy towards a shift of systems. To some it may be obvious that a shift from paper and fax systems to a fully computerized solution is good, but it’s not necessarily obvious to everyone.

Another barrier is the data boom. Legacy systems, beyond simply being outmoded, are also ill-equipped to deal with the massive increase of clinical data that is coming. Real-time and genomic data are just two examples of data that will be significantly more resource intensive than previous systems, and infrastructure will likely need to be upgraded to meet this increasing need.

There are also some fears about security within increasingly complex systems. In less digitally native communities, concerns about computer data integrity and system reliability are common. It’s not entirely unreasonable to worry about these types of things prior to a transition. However, the benefits of digital systems, in both reliability and security, far outweigh the risks, and the sooner a change is made, the sooner potential kinks can be ironed out.

Simplification is key here. System complexity can be daunting and will prove a major barrier for some people. Combing simplicity and intuitive design into the user experience is an essential step to appealing to users, especially those who are less digitally native. The establishment of universal communicative standards, language, and/or infrastructure are also highly useful in this regard.

One other, and perhaps slightly obvious, barrier is simply awareness. The benefits of an efficient and secure interoperability solution are clear, but without being able to see the advantages available, cut-through is near impossible. The discussions we have around interoperability and its place in the future of precision medicine are essential for helping improve healthcare offerings and IT solutions globally. 

It’s important to keep in mind that while there’s no perfect catch-all solution for technology adoption, all of these step-change solutions are useful, even necessary. This is why an integration engine, tying legacy systems together, is an ideal way to go. Replacing legacy systems is the goal, but interoperability is the road to get there.

We are rapidly moving into a highly complex—and potentially very hard to manage—global health landscape, and keeping on top of this change is essential to remaining effective as providers. Leveraging the technology and tools that we have available to us now is essential to ensuring we continue to operate well into the future.

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