Transforming Healthcare Interoperability with AI: Can your Integration Engine Keep Up?

Updated on August 28, 2023
Artificial intelligence, Healthcare, Robots in Healthcare, Healthcare Technology

Across the country, healthcare leaders are ramping up IT investments, especially around interoperability. But they often forget that the most important technology an organization can possess to ensure interoperability is the right integration engine. Without a clear view of the functionality needed, hospitals will struggle to support advanced data-exchange goals.

Despite tremendous progress toward healthcare information sharing, barriers to healthcare data access and exchange continue to exist. These include interface issues that make it difficult to send and receive information in the right format so that disparate systems can interact and “talk” to each other in the same language. This is especially true when information is received in an unstructured format that prevents actionable interpretation. 

Yet many organizations lack direction around how to evaluate their integration engine’s capabilities in a rapidly evolving environment. It’s a challenge that prevents them from making game-changing progress toward interoperability. It also holds them back from leveraging their data to improve quality of care.

To determine your organization’s interoperability readiness, start by assessing your systems that interact with patient data. Are they updated and ready to accept data in any format? Do they require availability testing to ensure continuity of care? Once this has been determined, the next step is to check the capabilities of your data integration engine. Compare it with new integration platforms on the market to assess compatibility with multiple systems. This will help determine if your platform is primed to meet the integration needs associated with new technologies or if it is time to invest in an integration engine that can handle both your existing and future interoperability goals. 

To help make this determination, the following standards should be taken into consideration:

Handles discrete and non-discrete data. All integration engines are capable of handling discrete data elements, such as laboratory or medication information presented in structured data fields. However, it’s rare to find an integration engine that can marry discrete data with non-discrete data, like a PDF with unstructured data sent by fax. That’s a problem given that 7 out of 10 hospitals still rely on paper fax to transfer patient records or orders
for prescriptions.

Non-discrete data is largely ignored as an interoperability component due to its format limitations and lack of structure. However, an integration engine with a built-in API for digital fax offers a unique advantage over those without this capability. Digital fax technology, when  combined with an integration engine that includes natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI)—enables clinicians to extract predetermined, unstructured data from a digital PDF, fax and even handwritten notes and send it directly into a patient’s EHR in the format needed, such as DSM, or Hl7 FHIR. This type of data extraction can be a vital part of telling the story of the patient

Connects data from disparate systems to provide clinicians with the ammunition needed for faster, informed decision making. To achieve true interoperability, hospitals must be able to share and receive data not only with other providers, but also with public departments of health, state and federal agencies, and payers. This becomes especially important as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services moves to improve collection of social determinants of health data at the individual and population level, with two data types required to be collected in 2024.

What is needed: a powerful integration engine that facilitates secure and seamless data exchange regardless of the originating system. The right platform will support all the latest standards for connectivity. It will also successfully connect disparate systems, as well as streamline communication and data exchange processes. 

Enables your organization to grow as new technologies emerge. The right data integration engine will position your organization to accept data from the highest and lowest levels of technology used to communicate with hospitals and systems. At a time when 94% of CEOs want to maintain or accelerate pandemic-driven digital transformation, healthcare leaders must ensure their integration engine supports the technologies that will be relevant in the future as well as those that continue to be relevant now, such as digital fax. This not only strengthens a hospital’s ability to compete in its market, but also ensures that its systems can capture information from any source and securely share it with any provider or partner. 

Incorporates RPA to eliminate redundant manual processes. The strategic importance of robotic process automation (RPA) in healthcare has long been a focus of healthcare leaders, and its value has ramped up in an era of workforce shortages and declining margins. That’s why the right integration engine must offer built-in RPA capabilities. This enables the engine to emulate user actions within an application and automatically enter data as a user would into the system. 

In instances where digital pathways for directing data into a system do not exist, the right integration engine will be able to use RPA technology to solve this interoperability challenge by replicating the user’s redundant workflow processes faster than humanly possible. Ultimately, this helps relieve administrative burden and workforce frustration. It also speeds information capture and transfer, putting actionable information in the hands of clinicians sooner.

Makes it easy for IT staff to monitor, manage, and report on activity anywhere within the hospital’s IT landscape. Look for a platform with a user-friendly, intuitive design and an easy-to-use dashboard that enables the IT team to view activity at-a-glance and dig deeper for a more detailed view when needed.

Offers support services to ensure operational efficiency. When flipping the switch to interoperability, the right integration engine should be coupled with implementation and support services to ensure everything works smoothly. Setting up managed support during your hospital’s integration process will help ensure all systems work as intended, without contributing additional burden to an already overworked staff. In addition to implementation support, many vendors provide flexible, ongoing services to manage your entire hospital IT landscape. External support services can be an extremely valuable component of your interoperability strategy by ensuring optimal system performance, while providing the peace of mind that you’re getting the most from your IT investment. 

Solving the Interoperability Puzzle

Preparing for data interoperability remains a top area of concentration for healthcare leaders, but significant gaps in capabilities remain. Efforts to close these gaps should start with evaluating your hospital’s data exchange and processing systems and then determining whether your existing integration engine is capable of keeping up with the demands of new technologies. With the right integration platform, hospital leaders, clinicians and staff can rest easy knowing their systems can handle any challenge that lies ahead, which helps them to remain focused on improving the quality of patient care.

John Nebergall
John Nebergall

John Nebergall is COO for Consensus Cloud Solutions.