Healthcare won’t improve until it speaks the same language

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At the core of the challenges facing healthcare providers today is an inability to communicate. There is a need for physicians to speak to patients in a language patients can understand. For primary care physicians to speak to specialists in the best interest of the shared patient. For payers to speak to both providers and patients in a way that delivers value. And for the inner workings of the healthcare operation — the data and information that underpins the entire system — to speak to anyone.

The language of data, and the technology that facilitates it, has confounded the healthcare industry for decades. There is an endless commentary among healthcare administrators about the dearth of meaningful business intelligence despite an overwhelming amount of available data. There’s an old sailor’s poem that goes, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

This has been revised by speakers and writers to “Data, data everywhere and not a drop to drink.” Part of the problem is a lack of connectivity; a lack of interoperability. That buzzword — interoperability — has been defined by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) as “… the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data. For two systems to be interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data such that it can be understood by a user.” In simpler terms, systems need to speak the same language in order to communicate. One person speaking Greek to a person speaking Spanish does not yield a very interesting or productive conversation. It is the same thing with data.

The HIMSS definition continues: “Interoperability means the ability of health information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to advance the effective delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities.”

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