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What is Interoperability?

The term interoperability has been around since the late 19th century when the U.S. government created an “Interoperability Standard” for the use of compressed airbrakes on railcars. It was the first mandated interoperable system and was an invention that changed the way train cars were designed.

Once again, the term is being used to describe a revolution of sorts.

Today, the latest mandated interoperable system comes in the form of the modern healthcare IT landscape. When referring to healthcare, interoperability involves the capability of IT systems and software to communicate, exchange data and put information to use. At the fundamental level, interoperability allows the sharing of data by doctors, labs, hospitals, pharmacies and the patient.

The advanced level of interoperability facilitates not only sharing of data, but a uniform method for these systems to work together to interpret, access and protect patient data.

Working in Interoperability

Increasing the interoperability of health IT systems is a national priority requiring private companies, government agencies and individual contributors to come together with their ideas.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has taken the leading role to increase interoperability by developing a roadmap for building the infrastructure that will link American healthcare providers. The ONC is looking to physicians, researchers, policy makers, technology developers, consumers, public health professionals and hospitals for input in the process.

The roadmap has a timetable for milestones at three, six and 10 years and is centered on five important concepts necessary to build a nationwide, interoperable IT network.

  • Privacy and security of health information
  • Business, clinical and regulatory operations that are supportive
  • Core technical standards and functions
  • Certifications that support effective implementation of health IT products
  • Rules for the governance and engagement of health IT systems

The work of developing this infrastructure is complex and lengthy, but it also is expected to create new interoperability jobs as the system is developed. New personnel with new ideas and experience in maintaining and managing complex software systems and the problems that come with them will be important for the ONC’s roadmap to stay on track.

Interoperability Education and Training

As the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) works to pair technical professionals with people in every corner of the medical community to build a framework in which all health IT systems can communicate and transfer data in a useable manner, there is a fair amount of education and training that must be provided.

In response to the need for interoperability education, the ONC has developed a five-course curriculum designed to give real examples and a narrative about the interoperability of electronic health record systems and the standards they need to abide by to support public health, transitions of care, lab exchange and patient engagement.

By providing the training, the ONC hopes to give technical personnel who are assisting hospitals and other healthcare providers the necessary tools to meet new and improving standards surrounding the interoperability of electronic health recordkeeping systems.

As health informatics specialists become the gatekeepers of medical data, IT specialists able to transition into working in interoperability could be in greater demand by employers.

But as the field becomes more specialized, more qualified workers are now coming out of school ready for a career in health informatics. These well-educated professionals are capable of combining skills in healthcare, IT, business intelligence and information systems.

A master’s degree from a regionally accredited university in particular is in high demand. Jacksonville University offers the opportunity for those interested in health informatics to pursue their master’s degree 100% online. Through a number of eight week sessions, the Master of Science in Health Informatics degree can lead to a variety of healthcare IT careers with the potential for promising futures.

Students will learn valuable leadership skills that are specific to healthcare and will gain the ability to move into a field that is at the forefront of improving patient care and creating more efficient workplaces.

Ideal candidates for an education in health informatics are not necessarily those with a strong IT background, however. Someone with experience in engineering or health sciences will find that they are equally capable of excelling in the field. Undergraduates with degrees in these fields can make the transition to the MSHI degree to build on their expertise and add skills that can lead to a new career in a growing field.

Benefits of Working in Interoperability

A career centered on developing and maintaining interoperability is rewarding in several aspects. In terms of job security, few positions offer more potential for stability. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in health informatics are expected to grow by 22% through the year 2022 as the use of electronic health records increases.

Beyond the security, satisfaction in being part of a revolutionary change in the delivery of healthcare is also part of what makes interoperability a tremendous opportunity.

“Interoperability benefits society by reducing the volume of questions for medical exams,” Brian Goad, vice president of engineering services at HealthSlide, Inc. said. “For instance, all of us have had an experience in a healthcare facility where the same questions are asked by different departments. This is typically because the systems are not communicating.”

“Working on interoperability, you can put yourself in the shoes of the person having to use the software you are creating or implementing,” Goad said. “Understanding their frustrations will enhance your views and create opportunities for improvement. I enjoy making an interface work seamlessly with client workflows and gain inspiration from working with the end user and showing them the possibilities.”

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