Louise Parberry, senior sales engineer at InterSystems, explores why interoperability could be key when it comes to unlocking the success of healthcare startups. 

Startups are behind some of the most innovative software applications and solutions being developed for the healthcare industry today. However, if they are to ensure success, there is one vital component they can’t afford to miss from their solutions: interoperability. Interoperability – the ability to properly understand information sent from or to another system – has been a necessity for healthcare since the advent of specialist departmental systems.

The unambiguous exchange of data is critical for patient care and evidence-based medicine. With data such a vital asset within the industry, it’s perhaps unsurprising then that interoperability is the highest priority for NHS IT leadership. Therefore, as healthcare startups develop new applications, they must do so in accordance with interoperability standards.

Interoperability standards

Interoperability in healthcare is governed by a number of very active standards bodies, including HL7, ASTM, DICOM, and IHE, which know the importance of both data models and associated message patterns. Anyone entering the healthcare domain should understand the existing standards landscape. One mistake that is commonly made is to dismiss current configurations as legacy, inefficient, or part of a failed project.

This way of thinking is fundamentally flawed given that most applications depend on data collected from other applications to some extent, whether in the course of care, from devices, or from administrative activities, and very few deal entirely in new data. Therefore, for a solution to be successful, it’s necessary to be able to pull data from multiple data sources – some of which may be using older standards.

As such, to be successful, startups must consider how to ensure that their solutions and applications can fit within healthcare institutions’ existing infrastructure and that they provide and consume healthcare data in a way that is appropriate, secure and feasible.

The latest HL7 standard, Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), is specifically designed to be RESTful and provide a simple framework for both system-to-system implementations and application developers. All future interoperability projects will need to support FHIR.  Apple Health for example, uses FHIR data to power integration with healthcare providers. But a new product offering that includes the capability to support older standards, other Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and non-standard interfaces, would increase the ability for a new application provider to fit into any architecture. This comprehensive flexibility can be a key differentiator for startups, helping them to stand out from the competition and win more business.

Data management

As data is a critical asset for the healthcare sector, helping medical professionals gain a complete overview of a patient to determine the best course of treatment, for example, it is vital to reduce the number of separate data repositories and to ensure data can flow easily between different solutions. When data is trapped in one place, patients and clinicians lose out on its clinical and financial benefits, and as such, interoperability is key. Therefore, whether it’s a new system or device, healthcare startup solutions must encompass the ability to transfer and integrate information among all sources to enable data to become more fluid and deliver value back to both patients and healthcare institutions themselves.

Pioneering artificial intelligence applications, for instance, can use their speed and precision to deliver targeted support to physicians. But the aptitude of AI and machine learning will always depend on the quality and seamless exchange of the underlying data, so by concentrating on data management, and ensuring that innovative new applications can interoperate with existing solutions, startups can help healthcare providers to pursue higher aspirations.

The future success of startups

Within healthcare institutions, interoperability with established systems is a priority when selecting new solutions. This means that no matter how innovative a new solution may be, if it can’t slot neatly into existing infrastructures and facilitate the sharing of data between different systems and solutions, adoption is likely to be low. Therefore, in order to remain viable, interoperability must be a consideration for startups as soon as they begin planning and developing a new application. This will ultimately be the key not only to their success, but to their longevity.