10 Oct 2023
by Peter Connor

Interoperability – a private healthcare perspective

Safe, high quality healthcare demands collaboration as much as clinical excellence. It’s as important to have a frictionless referral process, stress-free appointment booking, smooth handovers and accurate and timely information-sharing at every stage of the patient’s journey - difficult if the providers involved are running incompatible IT systems.

Over the years healthcare organisations have accumulated their own labyrinthine IT networks which speak completely different languages. This hinders effective communication when models of care are becoming more complex.

Adopting interoperable technology is in our common interest because it allows data to be exchanged efficiently, accurately and securely between different systems. As well as facilitating continuity of care, interoperability lays the foundations for continued improvement by supporting informed decision making and freeing-up resources taken up by time-consuming back-office tasks.

The NHS has already recognised the value of interoperability. NHS best practice standards for digital services include the requirement (17) to “make your service interoperable” adding that ‘interoperability helps make sure that data is communicated accurately and quickly and that patients get seamless care”. NHS digital teams are expected to work to open standards and adopt FHIR-based APIs.

In the private healthcare sector too, there’s a pressing need for providers to ensure their different systems are interoperable so they can meet the needs of patients. Take access, for example. There are many different paper-based and online booking systems available across the sector, but this fragmented approach is both labour intensive and prone to inaccuracy.

To overcome this problem, Healthcode have developed ICE, an integrated channel exchange to deliver online appointment booking on a national scale. Inspired by the travel sector, it’s a bespoke Global Distribution System (GDS) for private healthcare that providers, insurers and booking sites can link to using an API that meets the international FHIR standard (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) used by the NHS. Once connected to ICE, providers can securely share and sync live information about services and availability for third-party users to search and book an appointment on the booking site of their choice. The provider’s diary system is then automatically updated so the slot is no longer available. Final testing is underway on ICE which we’re confident will be a game changer for our sector and for patients, transforming the booking process from something that demands perseverance to a joined-up process that’s efficient, convenient, secure and accurate.

Another driver for interoperability is the private sector’s greater role in providing services for NHS patients and both sides agree that closer alignment is in the interests of patient care and good clinical governance. This was the motivation behind the Acute Data Alignment Programme (ADAPt), a joint initiative between PHIN (Private Healthcare Information Network) and NHS Digital (now part of NHS England) to adopt common standards for data collections and performance measures. A consultation recently closed into phase 3 of the Programme which looked at plans for processing of private healthcare hospital activity data by NHS England.

Healthcode contributed to this consultation because we believe the wealth of private healthcare data we hold could be an asset to the ADAPt Programme. In fact, we’ve long championed interoperability and data standards as a technology company operating at the heart of the private health sector. All our online products and services are designed to allow different healthcare businesses to connect seamlessly, from our Clearing Service which is on course to process 10million medical invoices in 2023, to The PPR, an information hub for the sector which holds more than 38,000 practitioner profiles.

Digital services like these and our ICE initiative show that interoperable technology can transform healthcare but they reinforce the point that this must be a collective endeavour. We all have to work together to ensure our systems can connect, communicate and collaborate in the interests of patients. Healthcode support techUK’s  Interoperability Working Group and Interoperability Charter because we agree that the purpose of technology is to break down barriers.

Guest blog by Peter Connor, Managing Director, Healthcode 


Peter Connor

Peter Connor

Managing Director, Healthcode

Managing Director of Healthcode and holds the position of Executive Director. Bringing his insight from across the industry he's driven new and revolutionary developments with his unrivalled experience and knowledge of IT solutions for the private healthcare sector.