The growth of information technology has revolutionized almost every industry imaginable, healthcare included. More healthcare organizations than ever use some form of electronic health records (EHRs) to record and store information about patients, and that’s just the start. Telemedicine, remote surgery, and more are not just possible; they are daily occurrences thanks to health information technology. 

However, these new information technology forms require new communication and collaboration. For any healthcare organization, interoperability must be a critical priority. Otherwise, organizations can struggle with the tools meant to simplify their work and improve the patient care experience.

What is Interoperability in Healthcare?

Interoperability isn’t just another word for “communication,” although it is a significant component. A key element of interoperability is that all parties involved in data exchange can also edit and update that data. 

This requires:

  • A standardized system for making updates 
  • Standardized language describing a patient’s condition
  • Data formats all parties can utilize – and much more 

Interoperability is the collection of systems and practices that streamline healthcare and deliver a better patient care experience. 

For example, let’s say that a patient needs to be transferred from one hospital to another for more specialized care. With interoperability, both hospitals use the same EHR system to share information about the patient’s condition, health history, previous treatments, and more. This enables healthcare providers at the second hospital to integrate the patient into their schedules seamlessly and develop a treatment plan. 

Types of Interoperability in Healthcare

There are multiple interoperable systems, ranging from the language healthcare providers use to communicate with each other to the way data is stored and shared. Organizations embracing interoperability at all these levels will reap the most significant benefits. 

Foundational (Technical)

Healthcare organizations use multiple systems for administration and clinical tasks, such as billing, medication management, documentation, etc. All of these systems must communicate within the organization and with external entities. 

To simplify this communication, international organizations like Health Level 7 (HL7) implement standards and guidelines for health systems. Standards such as the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) provide an internationally recognized basis for exchanging patient data, giving organizations in the healthcare sector a baseline for communicating with one another. 

Integrating EHRs and application programming interfaces (APIs) is also critical to interoperability. EHRs are a natural fit for interoperability, given that they can be wirelessly transmitted from one computer to another instantly, allowing healthcare providers worldwide to work off the same information. 

Meanwhile, APIs are needed for computers to communicate with each other in this same manner, sharing information across their programs quickly and efficiently with a minimum of human oversight. 

Lastly, healthcare organizations need powerful, reliable computers that can run EHR programs and withstand the rigors of a medical environment. Only medical-grade computers that have been independently certified should be considered for this role. Consumer-grade PCs lack the safety and reliability features needed for the healthcare sector. 


One of the most common mistakes when working with large amounts of data in any sector is data silo creation. A data silo refers to a repository of data that is difficult for other groups within the same organization or collaborators outside that organization to access. An example in healthcare could be patient pharmaceutical records stored on a separate server or in a different format from the rest of a hospital’s records. 

Data silos impede interoperability in healthcare and keep providers from having a complete understanding of their patients. Healthcare organizations must prevent silos from forming to ensure smooth data flow, both internally and with external entities. 

Secure data exchange protocols are another critical concern for interoperability. The healthcare industry is one of the most frequent targets for cybercrime, as EHRs contain a wealth of personal data for criminals to steal. 

This means healthcare organizations must have secure and standardized methods of communication within themselves and with other organizations. Tools like Imprivata-based encryption protect patient data from prying eyes, while standardized communications ensure that any suspicious messages or requests can be flagged instantly. 


If  healthcare providers use different terminologies to describe the same condition or problem, interoperability is impossible. Therefore, healthcare organizations must adhere to standardized language. 

For example, SNOMED CT is an internationally recognized medical term collection that provides codes and definitions for clinical documentation and reporting. By adhering to SNOMED CT, providers at different organizations don’t have to worry about misinterpreting the clinical information their colleagues provide. 

In terms of data, the key semantic interoperability concern is data mapping. Data mapping is transferring information from one data model to another. In healthcare, this typically means taking data from one type of EHR and moving it to another. Efficient data mapping saves providers time that would otherwise be spent manually filling out entry fields. 


At the organizational level, interoperability most frequently takes the form of collaboration between healthcare entities. Collaboration between entities can be outside consultation or accepting patients needing more specialized care. Doing so ensures patients get the best care possible from the most qualified and experienced providers. 

Data sharing is another critical example of interoperability at the organizational level. All of the prior aspects of interoperability mean nothing if data is not being transmitted between healthcare organizations in the first place. 

It’s not just healthcare organizations that stand to benefit from sharing data. Other sectors, such as housing, education, and criminal justice, can also benefit from receiving personal health data (with provisions made for patient privacy). 

During a pandemic, governments must be informed of how many citizens are infected and where the hot spots for infection are so that they can assign resources effectively. 

Importance and Advantages

By integrating interoperability into their structure, healthcare organizations can reap numerous benefits for themselves and their patients. 

  • Enhanced patient care. By utilizing EHRs, healthcare providers have real-time access to a patient’s medical history, enabling them to deliver more accurate and helpful care. EHRs are also available on multiple platforms simultaneously, making coordinating care among various providers easier than relying on a single set of printed papers. 

By having a consistent source of seamlessly updated information, providers also have a lower chance of making medical errors. 

  • Increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness. By implementing EHRs and data sharing, healthcare organizations reduce the need for administrative staff, saving money on payroll costs.  EHRs also minimize administrative tasks, allowing healthcare providers to spend more time on what truly matters: treating patients. 

Additionally, EHRs lessen the need for duplicate testing, saving time, money, and stress for all parties involved.

Enabling data-driven decision-making. With data from patients at their fingertips, healthcare organizations can enable large-scale population health management. This makes it easier to identify environmental factors affecting the community, analyze the health concerns of different demographics, and discover other insights that require large amounts of data.

Without this data, healthcare organizations would be forced to rely on time-consuming polling or going through paper records for public health insights.

Challenges of Establishing Interoperability

While revolutionary, interoperability in healthcare does come with challenges. These hurdles include data security concerns, standards and terminology variances, and a simple lack of money. However, all of these problems have solutions as well. 

  • Data privacy and security concerns. As mentioned previously, cybersecurity is a serious issue in healthcare IT. In addition to protecting from outside intrusion, healthcare organizations must also ensure the privacy of their patients to remain compliant with HIPAA regulations.

    Organizations must also get consent from their patients to utilize their data or share it with other entities.


  • Fragmented healthcare IT systems. A significant problem for interoperability between different organizations and departments is the use of outdated legacy systems or proprietary EHRs.

    While proprietary systems designed specifically for that organization are convenient for internal usage, they make collaboration with external entities incredibly difficult, as they do not have the technology or training to utilize them properly. This forces these entities to waste time transcribing information into their EHR system. 


  • Inconsistent standards and terminologies. One of the most significant roadblocks to interoperability is healthcare organizations using inefficient communication, like different standards and terminologies, to describe the same conditions or issues. The differences lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication, and potentially healthcare errors. 


  • Financial and resource constraints. The inescapable problem is that implementing new EHR systems and training costs both time and money. Staff must be trained to properly use new tools or resources, which takes time away from treating patients.

    Additionally, new software needed to manage EHRs might not be compatible with older computers, forcing healthcare organizations to upgrade those as well. 

How to Adopt and Streamline Interoperability

While integrating interoperability is a challenge, there are ways to reduce that challenge. Here are a few solutions and strategies to make the process easier. 

  • Adopting international standards. As mentioned earlier, adopting standards like those developed by HL7 makes it far easier to communicate, both internally and with other organizations. DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) for medical imaging is a similar standard used for storing and transmitting medical images.

    Both provide an easy-to-use solution for communications and collaboration used by many other organizations.


  • Health information exchanges. Health information exchanges, or HIEs, are agreements between different healthcare organizations to share information between them seamlessly. These information exchanges enable organizations to treat patients more effectively, even if they aren’t at their normal site for care.

    California’s statewide HIE is an excellent example of this system, coordinating care for 40 million people living in 58 different counties and replacing older, fragmented data exchanges.


  • Patient matching and identity management. A quick and easy method for linking a patient’s health data across multiple systems is by using identity matching. A healthcare organization can collate multiple medical records into one patient file by corroborating demographic information such as name, birth date, phone number, and address.


  • Data governance and quality: With the exponential increase in electronic data used in healthcare comes an exponential need for data governance. Having dedicated IT professionals focused on data governance and quality management helps ensure patient data remains accurate, safe, and stored correctly. They can also prevent data silos from forming and ensure cooperation between various departments in the healthcare group.


  • Collaboration among stakeholders. The most important thing for ensuring interoperability is encouraging a culture of trust and cooperation between stakeholders. This mentality must exist at every level of the healthcare sector, from providers administering care to departments within an organization to organizations working with each other.

    By working together, stakeholders can identify pain points within the healthcare industry more efficiently and develop plans for addressing them. 

Cybernet: Paving the Way for Healthcare Interoperability

By embracing interoperability as a pillar of their approach to healthcare, organizations in the sector will be better poised to treat their patients and take advantage of new technological advances. 

While there are challenges to overcome in updating an organization’s procedures and technology, the benefits of better patient care and lessened administrative load are too good to ignore. 

If your healthcare organization wants to integrate interoperability into its structure, consider Cybernet Manufacturing’s range of specialized medical-grade computers and tablets. 

Our computers are designed and certified specifically for medical environments. They integrate numerous features that make them perfect for interoperability, such as RFID readers, barcode scanners, and compatibility with modern and legacy equipment. 

Contact our experts today, and we can help you select the right medical computer for your organization’s needs. 

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