Interoperability in Digital Healthcare

The importance of interoperability in the health sector and how other systems can communicate with the CHT

In line with an exponentially digital world, the digital health space has equally grown in the past decade. Globally, the systems created today serve communities and patients in both low-resource and high-resource settings. Hence, there is not a one size fits all approach that can accommodate vastly different needs across systems, contexts, and cultures. 

However, at the core, patient data collected through the use of innovative digital tools in these systems is nearly the same. The challenge is that data is not standardized. While systems are equipped to meet local and contextual health needs, the high-quality and critical health data created through the use of technology (and leveraged to inform population-level health and resource planning) cannot automatically be consumed by any other systems within the digital health ecosystem. 

When care provision and the needs of a community remain invisible, communities do not receive just and equitable health services. A gap between needs, supportive interventions, and ethical data use to inform policy making persists.

In some specific scenarios, systems have been integrated and/or made interoperable, ensuring data exchange based on a predetermined set of requirements. The stage is set for what is truly possible for more collaboration across health systems, if we can manifest it.

Interoperability vs. Integration

Interoperability and integration have been used synonymously in the digital healthcare ecosystem. However, they differ in terms of technical processes for data exchange. Interoperability allows disparate or relatively similar software to exchange data easily, while integration allows the systems to function as one. Interoperability allows technical teams to scale in an efficient and repeatable manner due to the already predefined standards. 

Interoperability can be defined as the ability of disparate or relatively similar software to exchange information and data in a unidirectional or bidirectional manner. The information/data exchanged has to be understood across the different software for these systems to become interoperable. The two systems operate individually in their respective scenarios but can exchange data through a mediary that allows it to accurately translate the data into a form that can be consumed by any system within the ecosystem (e.g., digital health or fintech) no matter how data sits in a database. Hence, we need a standard to facilitate data transfer.

The Importance of Interoperability in Health Systems

The digital health space has a number of systems that support care delivery at the health facility, at home, or places of work. These points of care may have disparate systems that store patient data and currently operate in silos. This has made it difficult for healthcare providers and health system administrators to access and exchange individual patient data and/or aggregated, population-level health data. This lack of interoperability can lead to fragmented care, medical errors, inefficiencies in healthcare delivery, and the inability to plan for impactful population health interventions.

To address these issues, there has been a growing push for interoperability in the health sector. By enabling different health systems and applications to communicate with each other, interoperability improves care coordination, reduces medical errors, and increases the efficiency of care delivery.

Under the Hood: standards and technologies used within the CHT

Medic uses FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) and OpenHIE as the standards to achieve interoperability between the Community Health Toolkit (CHT) and other health systems.

FHIR is a standard for exchanging healthcare data electronically. FHIR provides a modern, web-based approach to exchanging healthcare data and is rapidly becoming the preferred standard for healthcare interoperability.

OpenHIE is an open-source framework for building interoperable health information systems. OpenHIE provides a set of standards and protocols for enabling different health systems and applications to communicate with each other.

OpenHIM is an open-source middleware platform that provides a central point of control for managing health information exchange (HIE). OpenHIM enables healthcare providers to connect different health systems and applications and provides a common interface for managing data exchange and security.

Improving Healthcare Delivery and Patient Outcomes

By enabling different health systems and applications to communicate with each other, interoperability can improve care coordination, reduce medical errors, and increase the efficiency of healthcare delivery.

At Medic, we are committed to improving healthcare delivery through the use of innovative, open-source technology. By leveraging OpenHIM, OpenHIE, and FHIR, we have created an interoperability layer in the CHT that enables healthcare providers to deliver more comprehensive care.

Part 2: Revolutionizing Healthcare Coordination: Unlocking the Power of Interoperability

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