Interoperability? It’s all about sharing information

Interoperability? It’s all about sharing information

I was excited about getting a new role last year. When my colleagues asked me what I was doing, I would reply with a smile ‘I have joined an Interoperability Programme.’ More often than not, I was met with a reply of ‘interop…what?’ or ‘what’s that?’

It seemed I had joined a team that was difficult for people to pronounce let alone know what it meant.

We know that information sharing is vital for safe, high quality and integrated healthcare. However, clinicians every day experience the frustrations of not being able to easily access essential patient information, as it is often stored in complex and fragmented ways across the different health and social care sectors.

Interoperability is the ability of two or more systems, devices and/or products exchanging information and then using the information that has been exchanged.

In healthcare, interoperability is all about getting different systems to share data to ensure we have the most up-to-date information to use in daily practice

Click here to watch a short YouTube clip that explains interoperability (apologies the source is American, some of the facts and figures are not so useful).

NHS England together with Health & Social Care Information Centre (now NHS Digital) and Adass published a handbook to help organisations implement interoperable solutions. The paper is pretty heavy reading, but there are some good case studies to help to further explain interoperability. Click here to read.

Interoperability has been recognised by our governing bodies as an essential component to improving health care services. In the National Information Board’s framework ‘Personalise Health and Care 2020’ the NHS was issued with a deadline to ensure that all patient and care records are digital, real-time and interoperable by 2020. These goals are driving forward the potential to get different computer systems to ‘talk to each other’ and therefore join up patient information across healthcare organisations. Click here to read the paper.

Launched this year, INTEROpen is an action group formed to help accelerate the development of open standards for interoperability. It is a calling for suppliers and clinicians to participate in solving the information sharing challenges we face. It is an opportunity to put aside commercial interests and truly collaborate to solve problems and work towards shared standards to make useful, reliable and real time data sharing a part of every clinical practice. We are now seeing a growing number of suppliers signing up to the cause. Click here to read more about INTEROpen news and events.

You can also follow the conversation on twitter @INTEROpenAPI

The following are some examples of interoperability:

Sharing child health data

Child Health Information Hubs receive large volumes of different notifications from sources including acute hospitals, other child health record departments, GPs, Social Services and schools every year. At present these important notifications can be received via email, fax and the post and are manually scanned or typed into a clinical record system. This takes a lot of time and personnel. One interoperable example may be an Immunisation Upload Tool, which extracts standardised children’s immunisation information from a GP practice using one clinical system and securely transfers and automatically uploads it to different system in a community setting. This ensures health visits and school nurses have access to up to date immunisations histories.

Sharing information between primary and community care  

A significant barrier to delivering integrated care is how difficult it is to share information securely. For example, in order to share relevant patient information between a GP and district nurse, they may rely on making telephone calls or sending information via the post, fax or email. These communication methods can be time consuming, unreliable and slow. Two of the UK’s leading suppliers EMIS and TPP announced in 2015 their plans to enable bi-directional sharing of information. This would mean from one system you could launch a view of a patient record consisting of the medical history and care plans held in the other system. This interoperable feature would ensure there is greater visibility of consultation and treatment provided across multi settings. The EMIS-TPP programme has commenced with piloting at key sites and then the plan is to rollout nationally the free bi-directional function.

Let the data flow

One of our biggest digital challenges is to simply enable patient data to flow in meaningful and secure ways. Interoperability needs to be on our agenda to overcome the data silos and improve the sharing of essential information between acute, primary care and community health services. It’s time for our clinical staff to have access to accurate and up-to-date information at their fingertips to provide co-ordinated patient care.

Start talking about interoperability today.


Melissa Andison

Director / Occupational Therapist

My work experience in Australia and the United Kingdom consists of clinical roles across acute, community and integrated healthcare services. As a clinician, I continue to explore new ways to improve my practice and advances in digital technologies are providing exciting opportunities for this. To engage the customer in health and social care, it is important to be able to demonstrate technology has the potential to improve clinical outcomes and whilst making the role of the clinician easier.

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