Healthcare Certification for Data Interoperability

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 1/8/2013 | 6 comments

Andrew Froehlich
For years, it was standard practice for healthcare hardware and software vendors to sell proprietary systems that lock healthcare providers into a single vendor end-to-end solution.

Reacting to the calls for assistance from the medical community, IHE USA is taking on the challenge to create a new HIT interoperability certification that will help take much of the guesswork out of compatibility of data between various healthcare systems.

IHE USA is a non-profit organization that is pioneering this new, industry-wide certification that will act as an independent third party, which sets and judges compatibility standards in terms of data interoperability and IT security.

If you broach the topic of interoperability with medical device salespeople, and ask about compatibility with other healthcare systems, they'll likely to tell you that they are fully compatible with just about everything under the sun. While this may technically be true, they often won't tell you how much work it will actually take to achieve a satisfactory level of data interoperability. This is a huge risk that can increase development costs and dramatically slow down implementation times.

Healthcare hardware and software vendors that wish to be certified will have to meet or exceed the set certification standards. If they pass, they will be awarded with the certification that will be publicly published for all to see. Depending on the level of overall interoperability, vendors can be awarded with IHE USA certificates in one of the three following tiers:

  • Tier 1: Conformance to IHE profiles
  • Tier 2: Demonstrated interoperability among disparate systems
  • Tier 3: Validated Implementations of deployed certified technology

This type of interoperability certification is greatly needed in the healthcare industry, but that doesn't mean it will catch on. In order for new certifications to actually mean something, customers must demand it. That's why it's critical that healthcare IT managers be informed of this new certification and begin demanding the certification be met by medical device and software vendors. Otherwise, they won't be considered as a viable vendor.

Only when there is a strong demand will vendors consider applying. Not only will this help streamline project budgeting and timelines, it should also help to streamline and improve overall patient care.

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Susan Nunziata   Healthcare Certification for Data Interoperability   1/10/2013 11:14:05 PM
Re: great idea
@Pedro: I agree mandated standards would go a long way to resolving these issues. But the nature of healthcare in the U.S. makes that virtually impossible. Not only is compatibilty between providers a challenge, but there also needs to be compatibility between systems used by health insurers. One way to start would be for the US government to mandate  interoperability for all providers who accept government-issued healthcare (Medicare, Medicad, VA benefits). Perhaps then physicians would pressure technology providers to make true interoperability available. 
kstaron   Healthcare Certification for Data Interoperability   1/10/2013 12:22:34 PM
Increasing the bottom line
One would think this kind of certification would be encouraged by healthcare facilities. By ensuring they have systems that play nice with others it will ultimately mean that more people get treated, staff spend more time on their jobs instead of troubleshooting systems that are less than hospitible towards each other, and that will increase the bottom line.
Andrew Froehlich   Healthcare Certification for Data Interoperability   1/9/2013 8:56:35 AM
Re: great idea
@Dave, unfortunately, this is one of those situations where a slow down may be needed. I think most healthcare organizations are finding that interoperation between systems and data is becoming increasingly important.
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Pablo Valerio   Healthcare Certification for Data Interoperability   1/8/2013 2:20:35 PM
Re: great idea
Sara, this is where government intervention is required. Without a clear set of standards, for privacy, security and data exchange, it would be difficult to convince the healthcare providers to invest in adapting their existing systems.

I was looking at the UK NHS approach for a blog about granting patients access by 2015, and one of the requirements set by the government is: 

"There should be a clear contractual requirement that all organizations delivering care in the NHS or in adult and child social care have systems that allow full electronic data sharing against set standards. There can be no opt‐out, regardless of whether the provider is in the NHS, private or voluntary and community sector"
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David Wagner   Healthcare Certification for Data Interoperability   1/8/2013 12:42:02 PM
Re: great idea
I think this is great. But it seems enormously difficult to keep on top of as the health IT field changes. Will it create a slow down in innivation as people try to make their equipment pass the certification by maintaining backward compatability?
Sara Peters   Healthcare Certification for Data Interoperability   1/8/2013 11:23:50 AM
great idea
Thanks for the info, Andrew. I hope this catches on. Although I often see new certifications as extraneous, I think interoperability is something that all CIOs and IT directors value, so I have slightly higher expectations for this cert.


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