Learning About Interoperability from Other Industries

In my recent post about DeSavlso suggesting we needed a common interoperability standard, Karl Walter Keirstead offered the following comment:

Finally, someone in government agrees that MU has not had a focus on the right things.

It’s amazing to me, coming from the industrial process control domain where interconnectivity across multiple systems and applications has been routine for 70 years, to see healthcare fussing over interconnectivity.

Their is no need to standardize.

Each set of trading partners the publisher needs to format data for easy posting to a generic data exchanger and the subscriber needs to be able to read data at the data exchanger for easy import to the subscriber environment.

The design criteria are that each partner be allowed to read/write using their own native data element naming conventions (i.e. I post “abc”, you want to be able to read it as “def”, a 2nd subsriber may want to read “abc” as “ghi”.

Of course, a long name is required per publisher data element so that subscribers are able to figure out what they are subscribing to and the other requirement is that a publisher be able to share on a need-to-know basis.

And, yes, since the usual setup will be “pull” instead of “push” each subscriber needs to be able to retain a cursor position at the exchange so they know the last line item they read.

I always learning from other industries and I think the way Karl frames it is really valuable. There are a few challenges that are unique to healthcare. First, we’re talking about 300 different EHR vendors. I guess you could argue that there are even more suppliers in industry for say something like a car or a computer, so they understand integrating with a lot of vendors. However, I think it’s slightly different since all 300 EHR vendors are trying to do more or less the same thing. Still doable, but it does add some different dynamics.

Second, I think that healthcare data is an order of magnitude more complex than much of the data that’s being shared in other industries. I still feel like that’s an excuse as opposed to a real reason for it not to happen. I know this because for years we’ve seen this data being shared at the HIMSS interoperability showcase. It’s more about will than it is about the complexity.

This all reminds me of the time I asked Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic, if she knew the opportunity she was sitting on. She gave me a blank stare and asked what I meant. I then proceeded to tell her that if she opened up Epic to other people she’d effectively create a standard that everyone would adopt. That’s essentially what I think Karl is saying when he says:

Each set of trading partners the publisher needs to format data for easy posting to a generic data exchanger and the subscriber needs to be able to read data at the data exchanger for easy import to the subscriber environment.

Yep. Epic, Meditech, and Cerner could create a standard for EHR interoperability and everyone would start to use it. Good standard. Bad Standard. It wouldn’t matter, their “trading partners” would adapt to whatever they set as the standard.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

1 Comment

  • John, I’d agree that health care data is very complex, but at least now it can or ought to be fairly structured for the most part (other then non-standardized notes). And there is not yet a standard identifier, a huge problem. Still, consider that in the financial markets, each exchange can have different symbology for a given security (many securities trade in multiple markets), plus different data vendors do their own customization of symbology). And while I’ve been known to say that in many ways the financial markets have handled issues (like privacy) that healthcare still seems to struggle over, the markets still have huge issues on inter-operability and data sharing, let alone provide good ways for investors to clearly see what they’ve got (except with the use of utilities like Quicken).

    Both industries could learn a lot from each other!


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