From #AMIA: Interoperability Held Back By Politics

Posted on November 12, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

When a recent AMIA panel was asked why health IT interoperability was still in its infant stages, members’ responses were the same we’ve been hearing for, I don’t know, a decade or more.  Let’s say that there didn’t seem to have been a lot of hope in the room.

According to Healthcare IT News, true interoperability between health systems is still beyond us due to the same-old, same-old reasons:  Hospitals with hundreds of systems, vendors with proprietary databases, varied standards, health systems that don’t want to share data and a lack of interoperability support from policymakers.

Ultimately, the fact that these obstacles haven’t been overcome is as much a matter of politics as integration problems, the magazine reports:

Charles Jaffe, MD, CEO of standards development organization Health Level Seven International (HL7) described a “circle of blame” involving government agencies and regulators, hospitals and healthcare systems, technology vendors, clinicians, academicians like those at AMIA and, yes, standards development organizations (SDOs), such as HL7. “The policy always preempts the technology,” said Jaffe.

My feeling is that this circle of blame would dissolve in a millisecond if a compelling financial case could be made for interoperability.  Anything might help at this point.

Hey, just prove that interoperability saved a health system $2 a patient somehow, and they might be made to invest in needed changes. Or convince vendors that they’d move even a few units of their product if their systems were freely interoperable, and they’d probably be more cooperative.

At this point though,  you’ve got cross-cutting turf wars going on, with vendors and health systems and standards organizations each pursuing an agenda of their own. And honestly, why shouldn’t they?

With plenty of financial and institutional risk involved, and questionable rewards, I’m not sure how gung-ho I’d be on interoperability if I were a healthcare CIO or vendor exec.

Bottom line: If you want interoperability, it’s got to have a more tangible payoff for everyone involved.