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Imaging and Interoperability: Three Reasons Why the Tie Can't Be Broken

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By Todd Johnson, Executive Director of Radiology Product Development, Change Healthcare

We've been on this journey of interoperability for quite a while now; yet, even in our modern healthcare environment, the discussion will never go away because there's always going to be new types of information that needs to be exchanged.

Think back to when DICOM came out and made modalities more interoperable with IT systems. While that was a critical point in interoperability, it didn't mean the concept of interoperability was closed. Some of us remember a day when modalities, once they acquired data, had their own proprietary ways of storing data. We've moved way past that and now everyone is exchanging images, but we need more than that. We need to share more than just images; it's other types of information now, including presentation schema, workflow status and dataflow changes, as well as board clinical data.

Here are three reasons why the tie between imaging and interoperability is more necessary than ever.

Data Fluidity

Data fuels the workflow of many different systems, and to get them to all work properly, you need to be able to share that data back and forth between the systems. For radiologists, for example, their need to get data from the EMR is becoming more critical because that data fuels a lot of activities within their workflow. The days when you would silo out the different data within the different systems is really gone now, because each individual system demands that you have data from the other systems.

For data to be valuable, it has to be exchanged. If it's caught only in one context or one system, that data is not reaching its potential. To me, "data fluidity" means that the data becomes available to all of these systems and can fully reach its potential.

New Data Standards and Interoperability

There are a number of interoperability standards in the industry today and for many reasons, not all of them are equally successful. Many fail because of conflicting industry and customer interests. Others because technically the standards created overly complex or involve require too many system dependencies. As a result, only a small percentage of standards built are actually put into practice at customer sites.

As a product company, we need to sift through many standards efforts and determine which standards solve critical customer issues and will gain the critical industry momentum. Going one step future, if we believe an interoperability area needs attention, we will get directly involved to aid and sponsor the standards community.

Dawn of New Data Devices

When clinicians started taking pictures with smartphones and tablets, it created a new challenge for providers seeking to improve interoperability. It introduced a simple way to acquire image data within the healthcare system. The smartphone could be regarded as a new medical modality capturing important clinical information used to measure, track and communicate clinical status. And we're just getting started, extensions to smartphones are enabling imaging and other novel patient data sensors. So we have to say, "OK, we have these new data devices. What does this mean for our system? How do we deal with the storage of that data? How do we deal with the exchange of it?"

As we look to the future and our ability to inspire better healthcare systems, we need to stay focused on making systems more intelligent and more flexible in different environments such as the cloud. By keeping our eye on the prize of imaging and interoperability, we can continue to tackle the challenges as they come.

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