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The importance of interoperability in the future of healthcare

By Alex Ryan, EMEA Healthcare Business Development Director, Hyland

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Healthcare leaders – can you call to mind all the places your patient records currently exist?

In particular, consider your unstructured data: medical images; charts; lab results; multimedia files; consents and documents captured offline.

It’s likely that many of these records currently reside in multiple applications and files, inaccessible for teams working only within the electronic health record (EHR) and core IT systems.

As a result, staff are constantly missing key pieces of the puzzle, or wasting their precious time looking for this hidden information.

Recent data paints a concerning picture: According to a 2023 HIMSS survey, 65 per cent of health systems lack medical images and other unstructured information at the point of care.

The trouble is, more than 75 per cent of patient data consists of medical images and unstructured data – and that number is growing by 50 per cent with each passing year.

This experience is less than ideal for both staff as well as patients, and is unsustainable in today’s fast-paced healthcare environment.

Now, more than ever, is the time for healthcare organisations to prioritise interoperability in their systems.

Five reasons why interoperability matters

Interoperability means that your systems talk to each other intelligently, ensuring that the right data reaches the right place at the right time.

Unstructured data is integrated with structured data in one single view, and clinicians can access all relevant information within their workflow.

The NHS has identified system interoperability, along with open standards and secure identity, as a current priority for the healthcare industry.

NHS standard contracts, for example, now must “ensure that its major clinical information technology systems enable clinical data to be accessible to other providers of services.”

Interoperability is seen as fundamental to “delivering new models of care and initiatives being driven by integrated care systems (ICS)”, to quote the NHS itself, while the UK government has said that “all integrated care systems (ICSs) and their NHS trusts are aiming to have core digital capabilities, including electronic health records, in place by March 2025.”

It’s easy to see why, as enabling interoperability unlocks the following major benefits:

1. Better quality of care

Unstructured data form a crucial component of a patient’s overall medical history.

Without instant access to charts, results and other clinical documents, healthcare teams are flying in the dark.

By integrating medical images and unstructured patient content within the electronic patient record (EPR) workflow, providers can access the contextual information required for better-informed decisions, offering more appropriate real-time care.

The technology also allows medical images to be easily captured, shared, and interpreted across the organisation, which accelerates effective decision-making.

Interoperability is a fundamental building block in providing a holistic view of the patient’s history, and  therefore improves quality of care and patient outcomes

2. Boosted efficiencies and reduced costs

When it comes to legacy tech, many practices are saddled with monolithic systems – a huge, self-contained solution intended to perform many different roles, and therefore supposedly able to operate independently from other technologies.

From patching in new integrations to increasingly specialised tech support, this is self-evidently expensive – as is their removal, which leads many practices to grin and bear user frustrations.

By contrast, organisations using enterprise-wide software that integrate unstructured content and images are empowered to scale down their technology stack – not only reducing their total overall costs, but eliminating complexity and boosts efficiency, too.

For example, Hyland Healthcare offers pre-packaged solutions that extend health system value and integrate with EPR and other core systems at less cost than acquiring individual applications.

This technology also holds the potential to ease pressure on a company’s valuable staff.

By leveraging intelligent automation to capture, classify and integrate patient records from other sources into the EPR, clinical teams are released for more strategic work.

Freeing staff for more purposeful tasks reduces an organisation’s costs and makes for more satisfied employees.

3. Patients feel more empowered

Interoperability increases the options for patient self-service, by allowing them access to see and share their own medical data and complete web forms.

These tools empower patients to feel more in control of their healthcare, and they also serve to protect patients’ privacy.

Reduction of paper records increases accuracy, accelerates speed of care, and reduces costs.

4. Increased opportunities for agile innovation

In an ideal environment, staff can easily, and cost effectively create an unlimited number of content-enabled applications – which will help them to manage work across their system and beyond.

If they have access to an enterprise information platform that’s both versatile and low-code, that ability to create as required can dramatically improve an organisation’s ability to react rapidly to a changing healthcare market.

The software also ensures data are secure through implementation of security, monitoring systems and staff education.

5. Easier compliance with regulations and standards

Cybersecurity and compliance are top of mind in clinical settings, so organisations must seek partners who can ensure that business continuity is always maintained, and that effective disaster recovery processes are in place so that no sensitive data is compromised.

Partners can rest assured that Hyland’s content services and enterprise solutions secure protected health information and adhere to all interoperability standards.

Why interoperability must be your next strategic priority

Although many healthcare organisations recognise the vast benefits that interoperable systems bring, the stark reality is that most struggle with implementation.

In the HIMSS study, respondents reported that 73 per cent of the unstructured patient data and content in their organisations is inaccessible by key clinical stakeholders.

53 per cent said they faced challenges identifying these data, which is only the first step in the process.

Once these records are found, they must then be consolidated and connected.

90 per cent of the HIMSS study respondents stated it was critical or very important for clinicians to have access to patient images at the point of care.

It’s clear that many healthcare leaders appreciate the value in interoperability of their healthcare systems, but they are yet to act.

Truly connected care is still a pipe dream for many organisations.

Ultimately, quality of care, cost effectiveness and efficiency are paramount in our industry.

Interoperability is the hidden hero that healthcare leaders can no longer afford to ignore.

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