HIMSS writes new definition of interoperability

By Tom Sullivan
10:23 AM
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Association says the update is more global in scope and fit specifically for the healthcare ecosystem.

HIMSS has crafted a new definition for interoperability.

HIMSS, the owner of Healthcare IT News, described the new concept as one specifically fit for the larger healthcare ecosystem.

Mari Greenberger, senior director of informatics at HIMSS, explained that there are now four layers to the proposed interoperability definition: foundational, structural, semantic and organizational.

"This definition is an aspirational one," said Greenberger. "It's what HIMSS is trying to accomplish and work toward when it comes to achieving global interoperability. We added the additional level of ‘organizational’ to illustrate the critical need for a robust interoperability infrastructure as well as highlighting the non-technical considerations that play into successful interoperability.

"HIMSS is trying to define interoperability and its various levels with an international perspective," she added. "We also worked to elevate the need for improved cross geographic jurisdictions/cross-border exchange."

With that, here’s the full definition HIMSS proposed:

Interoperability is the ability of different information systems, devices or applications to connect, in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational boundaries to access, exchange and cooperatively use data amongst stakeholders, with the goal of optimizing the health of individuals and populations.

Health data exchange architectures and standards allow relevant data to be shared effectively and securely across the complete spectrum of care, within all applicable settings and with relevant stakeholders (including with the person whose information is being shared). Optimally, interoperability facilitates connections and integrations across these systems to occur regardless of the data’s origin or destination or the applications employed, and ensures the data are usable and readily available to share without additional intervention by the end user.

In the health ecosystem, interoperability furthers the goal of optimizing health by providing seamless access to the right information needed to more comprehensively understand and address the health of individuals and populations.

Systems participating in information exchange do so with varying degrees of interoperability. Each component, described below, demonstrates the types of exchange organizations may engage in and such exchanges may occur simultaneously within a single healthcare setting:

  • Foundational interoperability develops the building blocks of information exchange between disparate systems by establishing the inter-connectivity requirements needed for one system or application to share data with and receive data from another. It does not outline the ability for the receiving information technology system to interpret the data without interventions from the end user or other technologies.
  • Structural interoperability defines the structure or format of data exchange (i.e., the message format standards) where there is uniform movement of healthcare data from one system to another such that the clinical or operational purpose and meaning of the data is preserved and unaltered. Structural interoperability defines the syntax of the data exchange. It ensures that data exchanges between information technology systems can be interpreted at the data field level.
  • Semantic interoperability is the ability of two or more systems to exchange information and to interpret and use that information.Semantic interoperability takes advantage of both the structuring of the data exchange and the codification of the data, including standard, publicly available vocabulary, so that the receiving information management systems can interpret the data. Semantic interoperability supports the electronic exchange of patient data and information among authorized parties via potentially disparate health information and technology systems and products to improve quality, costs, safety, efficiency, experience and efficacy of healthcare delivery.
  • Organizational interoperability encompasses the technical components as well as clear policy, social and organizational components. These components facilitate the secure, seamless and timely communication and use of data within and between organizations and individuals. Inclusion of these non-technical considerations enables interoperability that is integrated into end-user processes and workflows in a manner that supports efficiencies, relationships and overall health and wellness through cooperative use of shared data both across and within organizational boundaries.

HIMSS is seeking feedback, so interested parties can comment here until March 23, 2019.

Twitter: @SullyHIT
Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.