What Is Interoperability in Health Care?
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 mandated that all health care providers and other clinicians move from paper charting to electronic medical records (EMRs) for all patients by January 1, 2014. Like a patient's paper chart, an EMR acts as a record of the patient's care within the practice or institution keeping the record. In addition to mandating the transfer to EMRs, ARRA required practitioners to contribute to the creation and maintenance of electronic health records (EHRs). Also, a section of ARRA requires practitioners and institutions to adopt systems that have the ability to share patient information efficiently and securely across multiple EHR systems, otherwise known as interoperability.
So what is interoperability in health care? At its most basic, interoperability is the ability of a health care practitioner's information technology (IT) system to interface with systems of other clinicians to assist the practitioner in providing seamless, well informed care to every patient. Health Information and Management Systems (HIMSS), an industry leader in health information technology (HIT), suggests that systems that meet the standards for interoperability "should permit data to be shared across clinicians, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient, regardless of the [system's] application or application vendor."1
Interoperability, then, is an essential component in delivering quality care to patients and a major contributor to clinical integration, an initiative also tied to ARRA provisions.2 Clinical integration is a process of continually aligning patient care across the health care continuum that aims to improve care quality, improve access to care, and control or reduce costs. For clinical integration to work effectively, all information systems used to deliver that care must have interoperability.