Technical leaders from across the healthcare sector gathered to discuss how the NHS might begin to untangle interoperability challenges at Digital Health’s Leadership Summit this month.

The event, which was attended by approximately 130 CIOS, CCIOs and other digital professionals from the healthcare landscape, included a workshop that looked at how suppliers and providers could work more closely to promote open standards in health IT.

During the workshop, which took place on the second day of the two-day event, delegates discussed where efforts around interoperability should be prioritised and touched on the issues of access to data and compliance.

Themes raised included:

Agreeing a common problem

It was noted that the concept of interoperability differed between trusts and suppliers, and that this lack of clarity had led to further problems in furthering the cause.

It was suggested that healthcare leaders needed to agree upon a common problem that needed to be solved for work around interoperability to move forward.

It was widely agreed upon that interoperability should be prioritised around use cases that garnered multi-agency interest, including child protection, immunisation and end-of-life preferences.

Delegates were encouraged to get involved with discussions that had started taking place between the NHS and open standards committees around where these priorities lay.

Looking at interoperability within organisations as well as beyond it

Panellists pointed out that there was a growing volume of “micro-data” that needed to be incorporated into interoperability efforts, such as that communicated from various clinical workflows within the same hospital.

Addressing data ownership

The workshop heard that there was often a misconception that vendors didn’t want interoperability to happen because they didn’t want other companies plugging into what they viewed “their” data.

Delegates largely agreed that his concept of data ownership was harmful to the objective of interoperability as all suppliers were ultimately working towards a common goal.

Understanding the NHS has part a play to play as well as vendors

It was argued that too frequently, blame was placed on suppliers whenever there was not a clear answer to a problem.

One representative from the supplier chain suggested that a lack of clarity around standardisation from the NHS in England had been used by some vendors as a “get out of jail free card” for not using open standards.

But if software suppliers could create modular, open APIs, workflows could be tailored according to the specific requirements of each trust or hospital department, it was suggested.

Drawing the workshop to a close, panellists pointed out that standardisation was an ongoing effort and not a “plug in and switch” process that would see older systems switched off to make way for a unified data solution.

The evolution of FHIR standards were also noted as evidence of progress made in recent years towards interoperability, which had led to some vendors opting to develop FHIR interfaces that allow FHIR APIs to be read, without them having to switch off legacy technology.

Yet suppliers were urged to work towards interoperability goals with greater speed and with a flexible approach that allowed them to meet the changing needs of clinicians and patients, with one panellist noting that “the patient revolution is only just starting.”