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Interoperability Takes Center Stage in Health IT


For nearly 20 years the mission of IHE has been to promote standards-based interoperability in healthcare. As the adoption of electronic health record systems has progressed around the world, the critical problem of how to achieve effective standardization and sharing of medical records has increasingly come into focus.

To support optimal care, patients and care providers need secure access to usable information from multiple systems and care settings. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and large-scale data analysis require the aggregation of volumes of consistent records from multiple sources. Only widespread adoption of interoperable, standards-compliant systems can meet these needs. The growing importance of interoperability is underlined in recent announcements and actions by US health authorities.

CMS Incentive Program to Focus on Promoting Interoperability

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced a major overhaul of the Meaningful Use program to focus specifically on interoperability. The program, which provides incentives for using electronic health record systems, has been renamed “Promoting Interoperability.” As the name change suggests, the program will undergo a number of changes to drive interoperability forward. The overhaul will “emphasize measures that require the exchange of health information between providers and patients, and incentivize providers to make it easier for patients to obtain medical records electronically,” according to the CMS news release.

As a part of the program overhaul, CMS is tying payment incentives to the use of certified EHR technology (following the 2015 edition of the ONC Health IT Certification Program), and emphasizing sharing of information in forms accessible to patients and providers using application programming interfaces (APIs). Further rules guiding the use of APIs are expected to be released later this year.

NAM Developing Guidance on Procuring Interoperability

In January, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) hosted a meeting of the Leadership Consortium for a Value & Science-Driven Health System, which focused on the theme of “Procuring Digital Interoperability for Health Care.”

The stated goal of the meeting was “driving healthcare interoperability through collaborative procurement strategies.” Attendees discussed the key elements of interoperability, its current status in healthcare, obstacles to achieving interoperability and strategies for overcoming them. The Leadership Consortium reviewed a draft document that will provide practical advice on strategies for procuring interoperable systems, expected to be published later this year. The meeting highlighted the foundational role of standards organizations like DICOM, HL7 and IHE in providing tools necessary to support strategies for procuring and implementing interoperable systems.

HIMSS Publishes Environmental Scan of Interoperability Initiatives

To provide an overview of current initiatives aimed at enabling access to medical records across care settings by patients and providers, HIMSS has published a matrix identifying key characteristics of the most active such initiatives in the US health system. The ten organizations profiled in the matrix range from well established networks of care sites to exploratory efforts working to develop new models for exchange. Notably, of the organizations that indicate having current live connections, all but one list IHE profiles among the standards they leverage for exchange.

“Many national and regional interoperability approaches have gained traction in furthering secure, ubiquitous, interoperable health information exchange,” says Joyce Sensmeier, President of IHE USA. “It’s gratifying to see that the majority of these efforts leverage IHE to build their foundation. IHE’s use case-based approach to profiling standards adds tremendous value in advancing the standards-based interoperability needed to solve real world problems today.”

IHE welcomes these developments and confirms its commitment to providing resources and tools necessary to continue the progress of healthcare interoperability.

  • IHE profiles provide detailed, implementable specifications, created by clinical and technical experts in 14 domains, that define how established standards can be used to achieve interoperability in support of specific clinical use cases.
  • IHE Connectathons provide carefully organized and monitored interoperability testing for systems implementers.
  • The results of Connectathon testing are made publicly available in the Connectathon Results Database.
  • The IHE Product Registry provides a forum for vendors to publish information about the conformance of their products with IHE profiles, and purchasers to find products that meet their interoperability requirements.

IHE has a long history of collaborating with other standards organizations, organizations of healthcare and health IT professionals, governmental agencies and health IT vendors to advance interoperability. We affirm our commitment to seeking new opportunities to work together toward our shared goals. And we invite anyone interested in joining IHE or collaborating with IHE to contact us: secretary@ihe.net.