Making interoperability easier through INTEROPen

As far back as Hippocrates, health information management has played a fundamental role in patient care, and clinical advances have been entwined with the exponential growth of information management, communication, and analytics technology. Healthcare organizations have deployed information technology (IT) widely to facilitate clinical, business and administrative operations and now have an extensive legacy IT base in place.  Today the challenges in health and care are compounded by the increase in long term conditions populations of patients and the fact many have more than one.  As healthcare moves from a break-fix model to one of long term condition management, care is now managed by Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDTs) made up of workers from different Provider organisations using new models of care.

As we have moved towards these models of care, it has become quickly apparent that the highest risks of poor quality care and gaps in care occurring is when care is handed over from one Provider to another, or where patient care has to be delivered by a Multi-Disciplinary Team made up of workers from different organisations, who use different systems. Necessary new models of care and health transformation require increased data liquidity and for this to happen, systems must be interoperable.  Data must be able to flow throughout the healthcare system easily and securely, which a legacy IT base does not make easy. Information must be quickly available to clinicians, patients and others, whenever and wherever they need it.  Interoperability at scale requires standards and as is often said:

“Healthcare standards are like toothbrushes; everyone says they have them, but nobody is willing to share”

Therefore we need a set of interoperability standards that suppliers can and will deliver (and share) and that health and care organisations will use.  One of the problems with the development and implementation of interoperability standards in the past has been that there has either not been enough of a “supply-push” of standards that suppliers are bought in to support, or a “demand-pull” from health and social care organisations.  Without having both of these forces in place the development and adoption of standards is going to fail.  techUK’s Interoperability Charter recognised part of this and tried to ensure that the ”supply-push” was correctly defined but it couldn’t address the demand pull.

So we come to today. How do we obtain the necessary “supply-push” and “demand-pull”. This is why INTEROPen has been set up. INTEROPen is an OPEN collaboration of individuals, industry, standards organisations, health and care providers, NHS England and NHS Digital, who have agreed to work together to accelerate the development of open standards for interoperability in the health and social care sector.  techUK is part of this and I sit on the INTEROPen Board as the techUK representative.

INTEROPen aims to provide a forum to collaborate on the design and application of technical interoperability standards. The areas covered by the group include data exchange, data validation, defining APIs and governance. It is an action group whereby members commit to design, validation and demonstration using real systems.  Commercial interests are put to one side in the group’s activities. 

INTEROPen is a new way of doing interoperability across Health and Social Care.  Ways of working are still evolving, but in my experience it is the best chance we have to actually do this successfully.  INTEROPen is now at a point to engage the software supplier community and is about to do this through techUK.   

INTEROPen wants to form a realistic assessment of where suppliers of IT software to the UK health and care sector, are today; what they are committed to delivering, the challenges they are facing, and the type of support needed. It is intended to offer software suppliers a voice, and you will be invited on multiple occasions to make suggestions and recommendations for change.  This is being done with 2 questionnaires that are being issued today.  We will send information out to these separately. 

For those of you whose organisations have not joined INTEROPen, I recommend you consider joining. It costs nothing and you will have the opportunity to influence and shape interoperability and plan it into your products earlier, rather than “having interoperability done to you”. 

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