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The Importance of Interoperability in Healthcare


Apr 6, 2022 - 5 minute read

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Małgorzata Caban Senior Content Marketing Specialist

She specialises in translation, writing and knowledge management. In her work, she combines her passion for languages with an interest in technology. Privately, she was part of a team of volunteers responsible for the Polish translation of “Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear” video game.

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In today’s medical industry, the ability to share and interpret data across various systems has gained undeniable significance. Healthcare organisations are realising that a lack of interoperability might result in information loss and subsequently impact the number of positive health outcomes. It also affects the patients who, for example, have to repeat their information between visits. A recent study by Gartner shows that 31% of healthcare providers target interoperability technologies for increased funding. Furthermore, Gartner predicts that by 2023, interoperability (together with ease of migration and coherence) will be a deciding factor in 90% of data science, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence platform buying decisions.

Objectivity has, at its core, a strong belief in supporting clients by delivering the Quadruple Aim of Healthcare. The Aim serves as a compass which ensures the balance of elements that constitute a world-class service.

diag quadruple aim

Figure 1. The Quadruple Aim Framework

Lack of interoperability is a key barrier to the delivery of the Quadruple Aim, as it makes tracking outcomes across providers and within providers’ multiple systems more difficult. Having to repeat the story and not receiving a joined-up service has a negative impact on the experience of care for patients. The repetition and inability to get the complete picture also make life harder for service providers.

What Is Interoperability in Healthcare?

Interoperability is most commonly defined as the capacity of technology systems to communicate with each other and exchange information. It aims to integrate data across multiple organisations or regions, as well as within one institution. The goal is to remove barriers, optimise services and steer towards more connected, patient-centric care. Software solutions for healthcare need to ensure that the right data can be securely accessed by all stakeholders, whether this be the clinician, the administrator and, of course, the patient.

According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), there are four major levels of interoperability in healthcare.

  1. Foundational interoperability

    At the foundation level, interoperability offers a basic exchange of information through different channels. This layer establishes the integration and compatibility requirements that will allow for the data to be shared and received. Software systems can effectively and securely communicate with each other, but they are unable to interpret the received data without additional technologies or human intervention.
  2. Structural interoperability

    This layer determines the structure or format of the data exchange that occurs between systems. The syntax of the message needs to ensure ease of interpretation for the receiver. Messaging standards such as FHIR and HL7 provide institutions with guidance on how to achieve structured and uniform movement of health data. However, when the content of the message isn’t standardised, additional analysis becomes necessary.
  3. Semantic interoperability

    Semantic interoperability is critical for bridging the gap between healthcare IT systems and data sources. This is the ability of systems not only to share information but also to interpret and use it. At this level, the structured message contains already standardised and coded data. Enabling such a reliable and accurate transfer requires data normalisation. It involves standardising the terminology and types of data to eliminate ambiguity and allow the data to be transmitted in a uniform pattern, retrievable by all parties.
  4. Organisational interoperability

    This is the highest level of interoperability which enables trust within an organisation and among its partners, as well as shared consent to leverage their data. It encompasses the necessary technical components and non-technical considerations, such as governance, policy, social, and legal aspects. This level of interoperability facilitates seamless, secure, and timely sharing of information among all involved organisations and individuals.

The Benefits of Interoperability in Healthcare

As we have explored, interoperable systems contribute significantly to the delivery of the Quadruple Aim of Healthcare. In addition to this, having data shared and understood across an organisation or across systems can result in improved health outcomes and organisational productivity. Other benefits of interoperability include:

  1. Improved patient experience
    With key data at hand, health professionals can provide patients with accelerated service (diagnosis, procedures) as well as personalised treatment based on their entire medical history.
  2. Satisfied staff
    For clinical staff, interoperability means less chasing around and better information availability. Moreover, improved patient satisfaction positively impacts the wellbeing of the staff.
  3. Fewer errors
    With reliable, interoperable systems, the risk of sharing incorrect information drops. Since even a seemingly small inconsistency in data can have grave consequences in medicine, ensuring an accurate and trustworthy information flow is essential.
  4. Lower costs
    As the risk of errors and delays is reduced, the cost of medical treatments is lowered as well. Increased productivity and the digitisation of paper-based processes also significantly reduce costs incurred by health institutions.
  5. Greater security and privacy
    Without the need to manually update patient records, there’s less possibility that their data will be lost or tampered with. Patient information is more secure and their privacy well-maintained.
  6. Good overview of public health data
    Interoperability enables better tracking of data and the accumulation of database which can greatly aid the analysis of healthcare trends and the pursuit of new treatment methods. This bigger picture is essential to rapidly respond to new threats or even get ahead of them.
  7. Better outcomes
    The more processes we track, the more we know about their effectiveness. This, in turn, enables service improvement and leads to better outcomes for patients.

Industry Recommendations

The established importance of interoperability across healthcare systems poses a question of how institutions and their management should leverage it to digitally optimise their operations. One of the recommendations is following a composable healthcare strategy and putting interoperability at its centre.

Composable healthcare is a means of reusing existing IT system functionalities together with new modular business capabilities. It involves a shift away from more monolithic and difficult-to-manage solutions which can’t rapidly respond to changing business dynamics or opportunities. Gartner recommends utilising interoperable application ecosystems (IAEs) as a practical way of embarking on the composable healthcare journey.

IAEs form naturally through vendor alliances and mutual domain interests. They follow industry interoperability standards and offer an efficient approach to carrying out a composable enterprise strategy. Healthcare organisations are advised to select and resign from IT vendor solutions based on their ability to participate in a relevant set of IAEs and adhere to industry-standard open APIs within set timeframes.


Health and social care organisations need to look for efficient ways of connecting their services across various locations and teams. Therefore, the investment in integration technology to enable automated, reliable data exchange will increase.

Interoperability plays a key role in enabling timely access to up-to-date medical information. Consequently, it helps institutions optimise a range of processes (such as patient registration, transfer, or discharge) and therefore alleviates their administrative burden. Physicians gain a complete picture of their patients’ overall condition, and individuals are empowered to make more informed decisions about their health.

Healthcare providers that seek to ensure the right connectivity and data exchange should take steps towards a more composable or even real-time healthcare strategy. Interoperable application ecosystems present them with an opportunity to logically organise their application portfolio and move further along their digital transformation journey.


Quick Answer: Top 5 Technology Investments for Healthcare Providers in 2022. Gartner. 2022.

Predicts 2022: Analytics, BI and Data Science Ecosystems Drive New Perspectives. Gartner. 2022

Establish Interoperable Application Ecosystems Early in Your Composable Healthcare Provider Roadmap. Gartner. 2021


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Małgorzata Caban Senior Content Marketing Specialist

She specialises in translation, writing and knowledge management. In her work, she combines her passion for languages with an interest in technology. Privately, she was part of a team of volunteers responsible for the Polish translation of “Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear” video game.

See all Małgorzata's posts

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