Facilitating Interoperability

Brian Klepper | Health Affairs Blog | October 18, 2013

A Health Affairs report on health information interoperability by staffers of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) provides a good enough summary of the situation. But it also is not news, and falls under the Bob Dylan Rule: You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. From the article: “In general, limited interoperability across vendors, low motivation to share information in a fee-for-service payment environment, and the high cost of interfaces remain substantial barriers to widespread health information sharing.”

Two difficult but solvable structural problems block our exchange of health care information. The first is the “transport protocol.” Most health care data transport approaches lack the strong privacy and security safeguards that other industries now consider essential. The same industry that is moving toward clinical applications of mobile health, genomics, and nanotechnology still primarily relies on cumbersome, expensive faxes to transmit clinical information between organizations.

The second is the “semantic standard,” which would provide an agreed-upon structure for content. Stage 2 Meaningful Use calls for adoption of The Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (or CCDA). But health care organizations have settled on different, often incompatible versions of the CCDA, perpetuating the exchange conundrum.