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Enterprise imaging interoperability, clinicians looking at xraysHIMSS, the leading professional voice for the global health information and technology community, defines interoperability as “the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged.”

Interoperability has been part of the national conversation to improve healthcare since President Bush created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in 2004. 

Yet, despite the high-profile attention, including incentive programs, healthcare interoperability remains elusive.

While radiology and imaging leaders may feel powerless to affect change in infrastructure at the national level, a better understanding of imaging workflow’s role in realizing the benefits of interoperability is well within reach. 

Here are five actionable ways PACS administrators like you can enhance interoperability across your imaging enterprise: 

  1. Champion an enterprise-wide imaging strategy.
  2. Adopt standards that utilize RESTful APIs. 
  3. Prioritize migration solutions that enable accessibility of legacy data.
  4. Leverage advanced routing algorithms.
  5. Utilize a single imaging workflow interface. 

Examining the Relationship Between Interoperability and Imaging Workflow

Today’s comprehensive imaging workflow engines can help your healthcare organization (HCO) get closer to realizing two of the primary goals of interoperability. 

First is aligning patient-centered care with the goals and objectives of your enterprise imaging strategy. Enabling the right reports and studies to be accessible when healthcare providers (HCPs) need them is central to the collaborative and coordinated care that should guide clinical decisions. 

The second benefit is meeting the needs of healthcare’s quadruple aim. Delivering the right reports at the right time not only improves operational efficiencies and outcomes but also alleviates clinicians’ frustrations associated with limited access to data. 

From a technology perspective, interoperability can only be achieved with a modern, standards-based approach. The technical standards and specifications are outlined in the ONC’s S&I Framework. Without an imaging workflow engine that supports the vocabularies, HL7 syntax, transport, security, and web services, interoperability will remain out of reach. 

Here are five ways imaging services leaders can improve interoperability:

1. Promote an Enterprise-Wide Imaging Strategy

An enterprise imaging strategy is foundational to any interoperability initiatives at your HCO. Without a plan to optimize your HCO’s electronic health record (EHR) to ensure HCPs have access to clinical images and associated documentation, regardless of its originating source, you’re setting yourself, and your organization, on a path to failure. 

2. Adopt RESTful API-Based Standards

Adopting new and emerging standards like HL7 FHIR and DICOMweb is critical to delivering the right study at the right time. These modern standards use RESTful APIs, an architectural approach that utilizes less bandwidth and is built with the programming languages of the internet – making them ideal for any web-based applications. 

If your imaging workflow engine does not support RESTful APIs, the future interoperability made possible with this approach will go unrealized by your HCO.

3. Don’t Lose Sight of Your Legacy Data

It’s critical that you have a migration solution that enables legacy data to be accessible at the point-of-care. 

While many imaging workflow solutions can solve your data exchange and access problems moving forward, the benefit of interoperability is the ability for HCPs to access a comprehensive overview of the patient’s journey. 

4. Leverage Algorithms for HL7 and DICOM Routing

Delivering the right study to the right location at the right time, regardless of the storage location or destination, is at the heart of interoperability. 

Universal routers with advanced algorithms power predictive indexing that makes just-in-time (JIT) data management a reality. Without this feature, your HCO loses the operational efficiencies that make interoperability so valuable. 

5. Manage System Incompatibilities with a Single Interface

System incompatibility is part of what makes interoperability such a challenge. 

Real-time access to the complete patient journey, data for which is often housed in different locations, can be realized with a pre-fetch workflow that locates, retrieves, and consolidates patient studies from a single interface. 

Dissolving artificial storage boundaries gets your HCO one step closer to realizing the improved patient outcomes made possible by interoperability.

Power Interoperability Across Your Imaging Enterprise

While meaningful interoperability across systems, especially for patients treated at competing HCOs, may seem like a “pie in the sky” dream, you can take steps to meaningfully break down the barriers to interoperability across your imaging enterprise.

Contact us to discuss how an intelligent imaging workflow engine can power interoperability at your HCO. 

Beau Jones

Beau is the President and CEO of DataFirst with more than 22 years of experience in management and leadership roles in the healthcare and information services industries. Learn more about Beau's experiences and qualifications on our Leadership page.