HIMSS recently updated (and published) our definition of interoperability. Apart from being more inclusive of stakeholder, settings and data types, one of the major updates to our 2019 definition includes refining how we define the ‘layers of interoperability.’ There are now four layers: foundational, structural, semantic and organizational.
Below are some of the key changes to the definition from HIMSS’s original definition, updated in 2013.
Increased focus on a more aspirational end goal: When we talk about achieving interoperability, it is more than just ensuring information is shared and integrated across systems/stakeholders, but that the information is shared in a way that improves outcomes and health for individuals and populations. This element was missing in previous definitions and was important to highlight in the new one. We built on existing definitions not only from our previous definition, but from National Academy of Medicine, IEEE and others. We wanted to build off the incredibly important work that has already been done in this arena.
Expansion of stakeholders, settings and data types: Our previous definition listed some but not all the stakeholders and settings that must be included in interoperability efforts. As the ecosystem continues to expand, we wanted to ensure our definition didn’t exclude any groups or data sources, so we worked to ensure a broader reference to stakeholders in the space. Additionally, this definition should be easily applied and have alignment with our international stakeholders.
Addition of organizational interoperability component: There are many degrees to which interoperability is achieved. HIMSS’s proposed new definition acknowledges that one organization may be interoperable to the extent that they can exchange a patient record as a static document, while another may be able to exchange it and integrate the information into their native system. What we noticed was that a fundamental component – the organizational requirements – was not discussed in our 2013 definition, but it was integral to achieving interoperability. We added this component in to discuss the non-technical considerations that play into successful interoperability and recognize that the “how you do it” is more than just ensuring the technical capabilities are in place.
We have a robust team of interoperability thought leaders both within and aligned with HIMSS that has provided feedback to inform this definition. However, this ecosystem is much broader than the group that contributed the great insight we have captured in this updated definition. This comment period gives HIMSS an opportunity to reach a broader audience of stakeholders to ensure that the new definition is comprehensive, and more importantly, relevant, to each of them.
We are also conducting this comment period to ensure a timely and complete definition is available to the broader health information and technology industry.
At the end of the comment period, we are confident that we will release a new definition which is representative of HIMSS and the broader community. This is an important time for the industry to reflect on the changes and share feedback to create a final definition, which serves as a resource for dialogue and initiatives moving forward in the space.
Help advance interoperability and standards-based health IT systems that lead to meaningful health information exchange.