A previous article discussed the diagnosis for the situation of open standards in the healthcare industry: it is time to move forward on treatment.

Why is it essential to have interchange structures, interfaces, and standards in this industry? Because they make it possible to use data in a cooperative, coordinated, and safe manner, both within and without each institution in particular and at the national, regional, and global levels. The goal is that data should flow promptly and allow optimizing the health of every patient that has entered the system, in particular, and the population at large.

The portability of data is called “interoperability” and is applied at four levels: the foundational level determines the technical requirements for two or more systems to send and receive data among them; the structural level defines format, syntax, and organization during the interchange; the semantic level contributes elements so that the data can be comprehended; and the organizational level simplifies communication and guarantees the safe, timely and previously agreed use of data. Standards contribute the common language that makes interoperability possible.

A unique view of the patient

Even if this is valid for all market segments, it is particularly relevant for the world of healthcare, as it allows the different players (physicians, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, private healthcare centers, and patients) to access the clinical data. This way, they can offer the best possible care and center their activities on the patient while simultaneously delivering tools to the healthcare authorities of the different countries on an analytical plane and anonymously. These tools will allow them to make data-driven decisions about the population’s health.

Additionally to the barriers described in the previous article, there is a considerable driver: Electronic Health Records (EHR) are the digital equivalent to medical records but unified in a way that all healthcare providers see unique records for every patient. This has already been adopted in the United States (however, the adoption of these regulations continues to be difficult, and, up to now, there is no universal standard to support it).

The definition of a standard –in its basic model– indicates what data must be collected and how they will be transmitted among the different systems. We are talking about patient information (name, gender, age, weight), the diagnosis or the treatment, a specific condition and diagnostic issues (cholesterol, glucose), or even images from medical tests or financial matters (cost paid for a service).

Standards for every need

Digging deeply, there are different types of standards. Terminology standards ensure that the vocabulary used between the issuer and the recipient of the data is unequivocal, including sets of codes and classification systems to represent the medical concepts. The CIE lists of the WHO or the vaccine codes of the CDC fall under this category. In turn, content standards focus on the interchange. The HL7, which standardizes the structure and semantics of clinical documents, is an example.

Transportation standards, in turn, focus on the format of the messages being interchanged: the templates, the document architecture, or the user interface. The systems that interchange digital images fall into this segment. Identification standards validate each unique user (such as the Electronic Health Records). Lastly, the objectives of privacy standards are to protect personal data and verify who will collect, access, use or disclose them and for what purposes. The most important examples are the privacy and security standards issued by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of the United States and, in a more general sense, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Challenges and opportunities

Standards present two challenges for the industry. When there are mandatory regulations, compliance is the first challenge. The second challenge is to seize the opportunities and generate an added value contributed by its use. In both cases, the participation of a technology partner is essential, both to create integrations where there is no standard and to make any changes in structure or semantics needed to adapt and adopt the existing systems to the requirements of the standard when the time comes to implement it.

What is the diagnosis? There is a lot of work to be done regarding open standards for the healthcare sector. What is the prognosis? With the advance of new technologies, the sector’s need to place the patient at the center and boost the efficiency of its operations, together with the actual demands of users, lead to the following conclusion: the prognosis is very optimistic.