Interoperability in Healthcare: All you need to know
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  • 8 minutes read


In the maze of modern healthcare, where each turn presents a new provider, a different system, or a novel treatment, patients and doctors alike often find themselves lost in translation. The problem? A fragmented healthcare ecosystem where vital information gets trapped in silos, making coordinated care feel more like a pipe dream than a standard. This is where “Interoperability in Healthcare” lights up the tunnel. But what exactly is this buzzword that’s been floating around the healthcare corridors? Let’s dive in and know.

What is interoperability in healthcare?

Imagine you’re trying to have a conversation where each person speaks a different language. Pretty tough, right? Interoperability in healthcare is the bridge that fills this gap, allowing different healthcare systems, devices, and applications to understand each other seamlessly. It’s about tearing down the walls between different healthcare systems and ensuring that your health information can flow freely, securely, and meaningfully across the entire spectrum of care. It ensures that patient data can be shared, understood, and used across various healthcare settings, making your journey through the healthcare system as smooth as a well-oiled machine.

Example of interoperability in action

Alex, a diabetic patient with multiple specialists, uses a wearable device to monitor blood sugar. One morning, an unusual spike prompts a visit to his Primary Care Physician (PCP). Thanks to interoperability, the PCP sees Alex’s real-time data alongside historical records from other specialists in a single EHR. This shared view enables a quick consultation with the endocrinologist and an adjusted medication plan. The new prescription is sent electronically to Alex’s pharmacy, and the pharmacy system updates the EHR to reflect the change. Later, a nurse from the diabetes management program reviews Alex’s data through the EHR and offers personalized advice.

This example shows how interoperability streamlines Alex’s care journey, improving both efficiency and his experience.

Current landscape of interoperability

The current landscape of interoperability in healthcare is shaped by several key standards and frameworks, including HL7, FHIR, and IHE, which aim to facilitate the seamless exchange of healthcare information.

HL7 (Health Level 7)
HL7 (Health Level 7) has been a foundational standard in healthcare data exchange for over 30 years, enabling clinical and administrative data communication between hospital information systems. The HL7 Version 2 (V2) standard, first released in the late 1980s, has been widely implemented, with usage in more than 35 countries and by 95% of U.S. healthcare organizations. However, HL7 V2’s complexity and pre-internet design have led to limitations in addressing modern interoperability needs​​. To address these limitations, the need for more flexible and modern standards arose.
FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources)

FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), developed in the early 2010s, emerged as a more flexible and web-friendly standard, addressing the limitations of HL7 V2 and leveraging modern web technologies. FHIR is used as a standard for exchanging healthcare information electronically. It simplifies the sharing of healthcare data among different systems, making it easier for healthcare providers to access and utilize patient information. FHIR is built on modern web technologies such as RESTful APIs, making it highly adaptable for use in mobile apps, cloud communications, and EHR systems. It structures data into easily understood formats and supports real-time data access, enhancing clinical care, research, and patient engagement.

Digicorp develops a suite of REST API implemented as per the HL7 FHIR specifications. Reach out to us for more information.

IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise)
IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise), promotes the coordinated use of established standards such as HL7 and DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine, an international standard to transmit, store, retrieve, print, process, and display medical imaging information) to address specific clinical needs in healthcare. Project Gemini, a collaborative effort between HL7 and IHE, aims to advance healthcare interoperability by implementing FHIR within IHE profiles. These profiles provide implementation guidance for specific medical use cases, facilitating interoperability across various healthcare domains. IHE’s work, including the integration of FHIR into its profiles, underscores the ongoing efforts to harmonize standards and promote widespread interoperability in healthcare​​.

As these standards evolve, the future of healthcare interoperability looks promising, with the potential for further innovations such as patient-generated health data integration, mobile app connectivity, and the development of a unified healthcare operating system.

Types of interoperability

  • Foundational Interoperability: This is the ground level, where systems can exchange data but might not understand it. Think of it as passing notes in class without knowing if the recipient can read your handwriting.
  • Structural Interoperability: Here, we’re not just passing notes; we’re formatting them too. It ensures that the data exchange has a structured format, making it easier to interpret.
  • Semantic Interoperability: Now we’re talking! This level ensures that the data exchanged is not only received but also understood in its intended context. It’s like having a universal translator for medical data.
  • Organizational Interoperability: This goes beyond just data exchange, focusing on the policies, social issues, and organizational frameworks that enable seamless healthcare delivery across different entities.

To sum it up, structural interoperability ensures the technical capacity for data exchange between systems, while semantic interoperability takes it a step further by ensuring that the exchanged information carries the same inherent meaning across different systems, thereby enabling a “digital lingua franca” for healthcare information. Organizational interoperability aligns business processes and policies to enhance healthcare provision, ensuring secure and compliant data exchange between different healthcare entities.

Challenges in Healthcare Interoperability

Interoperability within the healthcare sector represents a critical yet complex goal, essential for the seamless exchange and utilization of information across diverse systems and platforms. This concept, at its core, is akin to the interoperability we experience with modern digital devices, yet in the context of healthcare, it encompasses a far more intricate and nuanced set of challenges. Let’s explore a few of those challenges.

Diverse codebase

Diverse codebase:

First off, let’s talk language. No, not English or Spanish, but the language these systems use to communicate. Each healthcare system or device often uses its own set of codes and standards. It’s like trying to have a conversation where one person speaks French and the other Chinese. Confusing, right? This lack of a common language makes sharing and understanding health information across different systems a real headache.

Legacy Systems

Legacy Systems:

Many healthcare facilities rely on outdated technology, which poses substantial integration challenges with newer, more sophisticated systems. The attempt to merge old with new often results in compatibility issues, necessitating expensive and complex solutions to bridge the gap.

Privacy and Security Concerns

Privacy and Security Concerns:

Privacy and security considerations introduce an additional dimension of complexity to the interoperability landscape. The sensitive nature of patient data necessitates stringent safeguards to enable the seamless exchange of information across systems without breaching confidentiality. Achieving this equilibrium demands the implementation of comprehensive security protocols, which, while essential, can pose significant challenges to interoperability.

Financial Constraints

Financial Constraints:

Lastly, let’s not forget the financial aspect. Upgrading systems, training staff, and maintaining high levels of security doesn’t come cheap. For many healthcare providers, especially smaller clinics, the costs can be prohibitive limiting their ability to invest in necessary interoperability improvements.

Advantages of health interoperability

The advantages of implementing interoperability in healthcare are multifaceted.

But first off, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: data silos. For years, patient data has been trapped in isolated systems, making it challenging for healthcare providers to get a holistic view of a patient’s health history. Interoperability acts as a key, unlocking these silos and allowing data to flow freely between systems. This means that no matter where you are or which healthcare provider you see, your medical history, allergies, and past treatments are readily accessible. This not only saves time but can also be lifesaving in emergencies.

Interoperability paves the way for better health outcomes. When healthcare providers have comprehensive access to a patient’s medical history, they can make more informed decisions, reducing the likelihood of medical errors and adverse drug interactions.

Let’s not forget the role interoperability can play in advancing healthcare innovation. With the free flow of health data, researchers can access a wealth of information that can be used to study trends, identify disease patterns, and develop new treatments and technologies. This could accelerate medical breakthroughs and lead to advancements in personalized medicine, where treatments are tailored to the individual’s genetic makeup.

But perhaps one of the most compelling advantages of interoperability is its potential to empower patients. In an interoperable healthcare system, patients have easier access to their own health information, enabling them to take a more active role in their healthcare journey. This can lead to increased patient engagement, better adherence to treatment plans, and improved health outcomes.

If organizations could share and use information more easily, they wouldn’t have to see people as just patients on one day, insurance members on another, and health app users on yet another day. Instead, they could treat everyone more consistently and understand their health needs better. In conclusion, the advantages of interoperability in healthcare are vast and varied and if implemented rightfully, it is poised to revolutionize data exchange and care delivery.

The Future of Interoperability in Healthcare



Blockchain technology is emerging as a cornerstone for establishing efficient interoperability within healthcare systems. It’s not just about electronic health records (EHRs) anymore; blockchain is enabling a level of interoperability that was once deemed futuristic. By 2025, a significant portion of healthcare applications are expected to have adopted blockchain, signaling a robust integration into the commercial deployment within the sector. This shift towards blockchain is driven by the need for a more disintermediated, secure, and efficient system, capable of handling the growing volume of health data and the complexities of Healthcare Information Exchanges (HIEs)

Real-Time Data Access

Real-Time Data Access:

AI and blockchain technologies can facilitate real-time access to patient data, enabling healthcare providers to make more informed decisions swiftly. This rapid access can be particularly crucial in emergency situations where every second counts

Interoperability Across Borders

Interoperability Across Borders:

The future of interoperability is not just a domestic concern but a global one. As healthcare becomes more globalized, interoperability across international borders will become increasingly important. This vision of a more integrated healthcare system is aspirational and it is attainable with efforts from various stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem, including technology partners, policymakers, and healthcare providers.​

We’re looking at a healthcare ecosystem that’s more connected, more secure, and more efficient than ever before. With AI providing intelligence, blockchain ensuring security and trust, and APIs facilitating seamless communication, the possibilities are endless. We’re moving towards a future where healthcare is not just about treating illnesses but about providing a holistic, integrated approach to patient care.

Shape the future of healthcare with robust interoperability solutions.

In Conclusion

Interoperability in healthcare is akin to a universal translator for medical data, enabling seamless communication across diverse healthcare systems, devices, and applications. The landscape is shaped by standards like HL7, FHIR, and IHE, which facilitate data exchange.

It will be essential for healthcare organizations as interoperability underpins enhanced patient care, operational efficiency, and collaborative care models. It enables data-driven insights, ensures regulatory compliance, empowers patients, and facilitates the integration of emerging technologies. Moreover, interoperability is key to adapting to global health challenges, making it a strategic imperative for advancing healthcare.

Sanket Patel

Sanket Patel is the co-founder of Digicorp with 20+ years of experience in the Healthtech industry. Over the years, he has used his business, strategy, and product development skills to form and grow successful partnerships with the thought leaders of the Healthcare spectrum. He has played a pivotal role on projects like EHR, QCare+, Exercise Buddy, and MePreg and in shaping successful ventures such as TechSoup, Cricheroes, and Rejig. In addition to his professional achievements, he is an avid road-tripper, trekker, tech enthusiast, and film buff.

  • Posted on April 30, 2024

Sanket Patel is the co-founder of Digicorp with 20+ years of experience in the Healthtech industry. Over the years, he has used his business, strategy, and product development skills to form and grow successful partnerships with the thought leaders of the Healthcare spectrum. He has played a pivotal role on projects like EHR, QCare+, Exercise Buddy, and MePreg and in shaping successful ventures such as TechSoup, Cricheroes, and Rejig. In addition to his professional achievements, he is an avid road-tripper, trekker, tech enthusiast, and film buff.

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