A supplier-led interoperability group has been launched to promote the exchange of data across healthcare through the adoption of open standards.

The INTEROpen group says it will focus on promoting the development of application programming interfaces, and organise conectathons that will help accelerate the use of open standards such as FHIR [Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources].

The eight founding members of the interoperability group are: IMS Maxims, Orion Health, Black Pear Software, Cerner, TPP, Endeavour Health Charitable Trust, Emis Health and InterSystems.

Paul Cooper, research director IMS Maxims, and one of the founders of the new group, told Digital Health News: “This is a new group, created as a sub-group of Code4Health, it is open to all suppliers committed to the promotion of open standards.”

Amir Mehrkar, chief clinical information officer for Orion Health, and one of the co-founders of the group added: “Code4Health has a number of sub-groups and suppliers are involved in each of those.

“As suppliers, we felt we needed our own forum.  Interoperability will only take place if we drive it and we felt we needed our own forum to drive discussions and work together.

“One of our early priorities will be to collaborate with and help the Professional Records Standards Body and Code4Health. They are both keen to work with us on use cases, developing appropriate FHIR profiles and ensuring that they have the right sort of clinical data.”

Cooper said the new INTEROPen industry group will also aim to support the new Code4Health interoperability community, which he described as “the best thing on interoperability for many years in the NHS”.

He added that the NHS needed to build momentum on standards adoption and use.  “Unfortunately the NHS’s reputation for creating and using standards leaves a few question marks.  ITK [the NHS Interoperability Toolkit] has been around for six to seven years; and how many standards in use from ITK? Not many?”

Mehrkar said that with its strong focus on standards adoption and use, and through its promotion of connectathons, INTEROpen will be more than a talking shop. 

“Our aim is to create a doing place, which is inclusive.  We’d welcome all health and care suppliers who want to play in this space.”

Mehrkar argued that interoperability is critical to realising the aims of the ‘Five Year Forward View’ plan to change working patterns across health and social care, and to close the multi-billion gap between NHS funding and demand that is predicted for 2020-21.

In addition, he said, freeing data from systems and making it available for new applications and analysis will also “enable patients to become much more active participants in their care.”

He further argued that with FHIR there was an emerging set of highly usable standards that make unlocking data and passing it between different clinical systems and health and social care provider organisations much easier.

“FHIR is moving to a place where clinicians will be able to look at underlying resources and data models. The tooling is evolving to allow clinicians to get involved.”

Cooper said that all the founding members of INTEROpen had agreed to focus on FHIR: “All agreed that we will adopt FHIR and we will focus on developing FHIR profiles.  So we are aiming to short circuit process and get it moving rapidly.”

All suppliers involved in the new group will be invited to demonstrate their interoperability and FHIR credentials by taking part in connectathons this autumn.

Cooper concluded: “We are trying to drive the agenda – for the future it is clear the whole world is moving in the direction of FHIR. So for the NHS to do anything different would be swimming upstream.”

Indi Singh, head of enterprise architecture, NHS England said: “This sends out a strong signal out to health and care organisations that suppliers are serious and committed to opening up their systems and are actively working in this space.”

INTEROpen is open to all health and care IT suppliers to join – companies interested in joining or looking for more information should contact the group by emailing suppliergroup@interopen.org. Updates on the group’s activity will be shared via @INTEROPenAPI.