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Future of Healthcare

On Interoperability’s Role in Better Health

Steve Wretling

Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, HIMSS

Interoperability is the gateway to patient empowerment. It is the foundation for enabling digital health and digital health innovation.

Technology has made it easy to access and interpret our personal data. The capability of one device to connect to another is called interoperability. It can be as simple as connecting a wireless mouse to a computer.

In healthcare, interoperability means communicating information to your healthcare providers while making them actionable to you as a patient. In practice, your devices can remind you to pick up your prescriptions or encourage you to take more steps. Our data helps us make personal choices, and it allows our care teams to quickly offer the best recommendations, like prompting us to schedule a health screening.


Interoperability in COVID-19

We’ve seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our willingness and ability to seek healthcare in person. It has brought forward the need for seamless telehealth options, whether meeting virtually with a doctor or looking up a health record. Interoperability enables us to receive high quality care from anywhere, including our homes. Doctors can deploy devices like thermometers and pulse oximeters to help monitor our health and to allow us to heal in our homes, which is more comfortable than a hospital stay.

Interoperability is also essential towards creating and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine. Sharing our vaccination record could free us from the pandemic simply by proving we’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine. Further, the ability to share data to the proper health jurisdictions about who has been vaccinated will contribute to better care and decision-making for public safety.

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Interoperability is beginning to put data into the hands of patients, providing a holistic view of our health. It makes sure our doctors receive our information from a hospital visit or send an X-ray from one office to another. Connected technologies can prevent hospitalization or even tragedy for people with life-threatening chronic conditions.

A caveat

However, if one system doesn’t have quality data and standard terminology, the data can’t be used in another system. In order to make this work better in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for IT is working on addressing these challenges with the right nationwide technical infrastructure and enactment of rules through the 21st Century Cures Act. 


We will see more tools and more capabilities available for consumers as access to health data becomes available. This means more health apps will be available on your phone and computer.

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