The Four Barriers to Healthcare Integration for Digital Medicine

Nowadays, nearly everything we do is driven by data. So many aspects of our digital experiences are centered around the data that our favorite websites and apps have gathered about us, and corporations are consistently on the hunt to get their hands on data that can tell them about customer demographics, behavior and more. Nearly everything we interact with on a day-to-day basis is actively collecting data or has been informed using an existing set of data in some way.

Because of the importance of data, it comes as no surprise that data is now considered more valuable than oil. While seemingly dystopian on the surface, data - when used correctly - can make an enormous impact on healthcare, consumer culture, and the way we interact with technology.

While this data is valuable and we in many cases already possess the data necessary for making a difference, a major problem still exists: interoperability. Making sure that data is readily able to be translated and utilized, particularly in the healthcare industry, is a major reason why progress in digital medicine has come to a screeching halt. Which variables are creating barriers for effective healthcare integration, and what can be done about this? The experts at Iron Bridge are here to break it down.

Why Does Digital Medicine Depend on Healthcare Integration?

Improving Patient Care Outcomes with Collected Data

interoperability health data

Over time, our lives have become increasingly encapsulated in the world of data. From the birth of electronic medical records to the creation of wearable health devices, our health data is nearly consistently being collected. This collection and storage of health data is the foundation for digital medicine: the practice of utilizing health data for holistic health tracking, diagnosis, disease management, epidemiology, and countless other subsets of healthcare.

However, while this data exists, it isn’t necessarily usable. Think about it; your fitness tracker or Apple Watch has the capability for tracking heart rate, exercise patterns, menstrual cycles, and more. However, this data is essentially made for your eyes only. Digital medicine, by simply principle, challenges us to do more. Digital medicine challenges us to use all this data to improve healthcare as a whole. 

However, this data is not interoperable, or able to be properly communicated to the right destination in order to make a difference. This isn’t just the data from your fitness tracker; digital medicine would ideally have easy, secure, and consistent data access from medical records, registries, and more to improve the state of healthcare. The data from all of these sources looks vastly different from the next, making it nearly impossible to digest in an effective manner.

What Barriers Exist in Achieving Healthcare Integration?

Decoding the Issue within Creating Interoperable Health Data

decoding healthcare

While the data for digital medicine to thrive already exists, we are currently lacking the complete systems necessary for taking the data, turning it into one consistent format, and making it readily available. While in many research studies this is able to be done manually, many issues arrive regarding identifiable data and time restraints within research studies.

When turning to interoperable systems to resolve this issue, we encounter even more issues. Healthcare Integration isn’t as simple as it seems, primarily because of these four main barries in achieving complete interoperability between systems:

Technical Barriers

A major barrier to healthcare integration exists on the technical side of what it takes to communicate large quantities of data. Interoperability requires seamless, secure communication channels and specific protocols for data transmission. While this seems simple, technical barriers make it difficult and expensive for hospital systems to build an interoperable system both internally and externally. While secure networks and communication channels exist, it isn’t enough just to move data from place to place. 

Syntactic Barriers

Another issue that exists in achieving healthcare integration for digital medicine involves the way data is structured. HL7 originally created a standard for the communication of health data across systems called HL7 2.x: a standard that left 20% of implementation up for negotiation to get things moving. This small portion of HL7 gave EHRs the freedom to integrate as needed, but created inconsistencies that made data communication and integration difficult. However, HL7 FHIR is designed to improve this integration standard. Inconsistencies still exist with FHIR, making it difficult to promote full interoperability between systems.

Semantic Barriers

Even if data can overcome technical and structural barriers, semantic barriers exist that make it difficult to decode and understand. A number of healthcare terminology standards exist to code for hundreds of thousands of medical concepts within various sectors of the healthcare language. However, if all of this data sat at the table and is unable to speak the same language, very little can be done to promote digital medicine.

Semantic interoperability is necessary for creating consistent terminologies, nomenclatures, and ontologies that make digesting and understanding large masses of data easy. However, this shift is perhaps the most difficult to instill; how can you make the entire world of healthcare speak the same language?

Organizational Barriers

Organizational barriers are perhaps the most important yet most overlooked aspect of healthcare integration for digital medicine. Health data, as you know, is extremely confidential and is protected by a number of governing bodies. From precedence, we know that confidential health data must be communicated and shared with care and can get companies and individuals in legal hot water when mishandled.

Organization barriers include developing the legislation and policies necessary for using healthcare integration for the greater good. Additionally, there must be a way to incentivize healthcare systems to create interoperable data that can be used for the advancement of digital medicine. Tax breaks and legal regulations can make this possible, but only if the healthcare industry can get all hands on deck in fighting for a medical system that uses the data and technologies correctly and effectively. 

Healthcare Integration and interoperability can change the way health data can be used for research and providing quality care day in and day out. Looking to know more? Explore Iron Bridge’s service offerings and affordable managed healthcare integration services now.

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