Is the ability of a system or a product to work together with other systems without human intervention. It allows an accurate and effective communication, and exchange of data, which at the same time is secure and consistent. Interoperability is a term applicable to the telecommunications, software, and also the medical industry. It can be achieved by either adhering to published interface standards (like HL7) or by making use of services that can convert one product's interface to another. Interoperability is only the beggining increased efficancy can result in lower costs better results and faster flow of data.

Application to Medical Industry:

In the medical industry, interoperability is a fundamental requirement for health care systems to derive the benefits promised by the adoption of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), Personal Health Records (PHRs), Practice Management System, e-Prescribing and such.¹ It is achieved by adhering to standards like Health Level 7, IHE, and technologies like Microsoft's HealthVault or Google Health.

Categorization of Interoperability:

There are three aspects of interoperability, which were defined by Health Level 7:

Technical interoperability: is the ability to move data from system A to system B. It defines the degree to which the information can be successfully "transported" between systems.
Semantic interoperability: ensures that both systems understand the data in the same way. The sent information will be unaltered in its meaning. Process interoperability: enables business processes and organizations housing system A and system B to work together. It defines the degree to which the integrity of workflow processes can be maintained between systems. This includes maintaining/conveying information such as user roles between systems.²
All three aspects of interoperability are interfering. Semantic interoperability requires technical interoperability, and so does process interoperability require semantic interoperability.

HIMSS (Healthcare Information Management Systems Society) provides the following dimensions to the definition of Interoperability:²
  • Uniform movement of healthcare data
  • Uniform presentation of data
  • Uniform user controls
  • Uniform safeguarding data security and integrity
  • Uniform protection of patient confidentiality
  • Uniform assurance of a common degree of system service quality

In 2008 and 2009, new technologies have been introduced for hospitals at an ever-increasing rate. There still is need for plug-and-play devices in the medical industry. These devices have the ability to save data on one device, and after removal, the information will be available on another device. For example, after visiting a physician, they might save your EMR on your USB drive so that you can easily implement it on your own PHR tool, like Microsoft's HealthVault or Google Health.
With interoperability in the medical field, different products can be combined to increase effectiveness. Small companies are able to enter the market with specialized products this way. Without interoperability, hospitals are forced to turn to large vendors. Interoperability promotes competition, and competition encourages innovation and quality. Still, business conditions must encourage manufacturers to make their products interoperable. However, less than 25 percent of all hospitals in the United States make use of EMRs (for example), which showcases the low degree of interoperability. The encouragement of manufacturers to make their products interoperable remains a major challenge today.

Web Resources

Health IT in Government - Transforming Health Care and Empowering Citizens

Medical Device Plug-and-Play Interoperability

Interoperability - What is it and Why should I want it?

Microsoft Interoperability

Related Terminology

Health Level 7 - HL7
Electronic Health Record - EHR
Personal Health Record - PHR
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society - HIMSS

Citation/ References



Figue 1: Understanding Interoperability

Figure 2: Categorization of Interoperability (by HL7)