Standards. Opening the Doors To Better Healthcare

There are a lot of things that standardisation has brought to the world, from three-pin plugs, the Phillips screw-driver, and the USB port.

But, so far, standards have been rather lacking in Digital Health.


Proprietary technology allows companies to move much faster. A company like Apple (or Sony, the other king of proprietary tech) can decide they need a new, smaller connector, build it, and then start implementing it into their products.

The same is true in software: like Amazon’s Whispersync, Microsoft’s Exchange technology, and the entire Google eco-system.

In Digital Health, every supplier has it’s own proprietary way of moving patients around its databases, some even have ways of moving data from one of their products to the other, and its own suite of APIs for allowing degrees of interoperability.

And this has led to a mature market-place in the UK of some powerful clinical systems, all built on non-standard technology.

Bringing Standards to Digital Health

A new group has been formed called INTEROpen, with the mission to bring interoperability, built on open standards, to healthcare technology. This is a sub-group of Code4Health.

There are 8 founding members, including IMS Maxims, Cerner, TPP, and EMIS Health. The group is open to all suppliers who have a commitment to implementing open standards.

Like the Internet’s W3C, and the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), this group is formed of suppliers who are able to influence and contribute towards this initiative.

The group will be promoting the development of new APIs, and aims to accelerate the implementation of open standards like the FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources)

Powering New Healthcare Delivery

True interoperability means that patient data can be transferred between different pieces of software, seamlessly.

Imagine what could be possible if you knew you could view data, book appointments, send tasks, send reports, and send documents to what ever department, or organisation, you need to work with, without a care as to what system they use.

That’s what standardisation means: enabling the new, innovative models of care patients need. It also means you will have the ability to bolt-on several products to enable a whole new array of possibilities.

Being supplier led, means that the speed of adoption across different suppliers will be improved and supported.

Standards Aren’t All Great

But, standardisation is not without its pitfalls. Design by committee can be slow and can lack innovation. The “out there” ideas are often dropped in favour of something safe the majority can get behind.

Even so, this does not mean innovation cannot become a standard.

If we look at the new USB-C connector, a USB plug that works which ever way up it is, you may notice it’s rather like the Lightning cable for iOS devices. Well, there are rumours Apple may have just designed the USB-C cable and given it to the USB-IF to say: “we did what you could not do as a group.”

This standards based approach in Digital Health may slow technical innovation down, but it’s going to speed up the delivery or integrated health and social care in the long run.

You might not hear this often but: standards can be exciting!


James Barton

James is a freelance writer and specialist in Digital Health. He brings his perspective as a leader within a reknowned supplier to developments within the healthcare technology industry.

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