Executive Health Administration

Ethics and Necessity of Healthcare Interoperability

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 7, 2015 7:30:00 AM / by Anna Montgomery, MPA


The necessity and benefits of healthcare interoperability are increasingly apparent, though implementation is elusive. Clinical effectiveness, efficiency, and patient safety are at stake.

"We have an ethical obligation to develop and implement plug-and-play clinical devices and information technology systems. Potential improvements from doing so include avoiding or reducing adverse events, transcription errors and redundant testing. Clinicians will benefit from reduced alarm fatigue and time spent manually entering information. Our patients will benefit from decreased length of hospital stays through our ability to improve the speed of information transfers and lower costs related to integrating and maintaining technologies." - William Stead, MD, Chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee, Center for Medical Interoperability

In response to improved technology and concerns for patients, "HHS is working to achieve a better healthcare system with healthier patients, but to do that, we need to ensure that information is available both to consumers and their doctors. Great progress has been made to digitize the care experience, and now it's time to free up this data so patients and providers can securely access their health information when and where they need it." - HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell 

Healthcare leaders need to be educated about the public policy issues, technology facts, ethics, and feasibility of an interoperable health delivery system.

Interoperability has become the holy grail of health IT. Though it is the universal goal, there is little consensus on how to get there. . . and removing business barriers for the sake of free flow of data between proprietary vendors and organizations sometimes seems to be more of a talking point than an action taken. Thought leaders are vocal on the subject of interoperability. Read what 15 of these leaders have to say at Becker's Hospital Review.

To clarify the issues it’s important to understand what exactly is meant by the term.

The HIMSS Board definition:

Interoperability is the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged. Data exchange schema and standards should permit data to be shared across clinicians, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient regardless of the application or application vendor. Interoperability means the ability of health information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to advance the effective delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities. There are three levels of health information technology interoperability: 1) Foundational; 2) Structural; and 3) Semantic. More information about these levels can be found at the HIMSS library.

To understand how interoperability can be achieved, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released its shared nationwide roadmap that includes rules of the road, a strategic plan, and measures of success. This will help guide healthcare leaders, policy makers, and providers into the future. The goal of the roadmap is to provide steps to be taken in both the private and public sectors to create an interoperable health IT ecosystem over the next 10 years, according to ONC.


Download Carol J. Geffner's Article on Trustee Governance


Topics: Health Policy, Information Technology

Anna Montgomery, MPA

Written by Anna Montgomery, MPA

Anna Montgomery earned her MPA at USC Price and is pursuing her EdD at USC Rossier.

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