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Achieving data interoperability in healthcare requires a joint effort

A review of digitalswitzerland’s most recent Community Talks about the crucial topic of data interoperability in healthcare.

In mid-October 2023, digitalswitzerland hosted the second webinar of its Community Talks. This session delved into the crucial topic of data interoperability in healthcare, featuring three panellists representing organisations from digitalswitzerland’s Swiss Patient Journey Ecosystem Map: Oksana Bober, Co-Founder and CEO of iCure, Serge Bignens, President of MIDATA and Head of the Institute for Medical Informatics at the University of Applied Sciences Bern and Gilles Lunzenfichter, Co-Founder and CEO of Medisanté.

digitalswitzerland is committed to digitalising the entire Swiss healthcare system, placing the patient at the centre of the transformation. The Ecosystem Map serves as a guide, illustrating digital solutions in Switzerland dedicated to the patient journey and healthcare system. The map is segmented into five categories and our webinar focused on one of these categories, «data interoperability».

During the discussion, the panellists explored the challenges and potential solutions related to achieving data interoperability in healthcare.

Data should flow like a river between systems

The importance of data interoperability in healthcare cannot be stressed enough. It has the potential to significantly enhance patient care and coordination among healthcare providers. When data becomes interoperable, this supports medical research, ensures regulatory compliance, and reduces costs, all while empowering patients to have greater control over their health information. Data interoperability is a critical element in the modernisation and optimisation of healthcare systems. 

For Gilles Lunzenfichter data interoperability is achieved when «data flows like a river, seamlessly and securely from source to an intended destination». This involves the capacity to reuse data within a single system for various purposes and to transfer it between different platforms. Oksana Bober emphasised that «achieving medical data interoperability is a joint effort that encompasses technology as the foundational layer; regulatory aspects, risk management, and organisational adoption and change management as subsequent layers».

Customisation of standards and lack of incentives complicate progress

The panellists discussed challenges related to standardisation efforts and reimbursement issues. They concurred that while standards exist, many solutions tend to customise these standards, complicating efforts to achieve interoperability. Moreover, the costs of implementing data interoperability often fall on parties that do not directly benefit from it. The primary beneficiaries tend to be downstream entities, leaving little to no incentives for those implementing interoperability. An example might be that the IT department of a hospital needs to invest to streamline its digital infrastructure. In the long run, it is mainly the patients or the doctors who will benefit from this investment, as the data will be better structured.

To give incentives is key to implementing interoperability

To move forward and realise data interoperability, it must be considered as a collaborative effort across the ecosystem. Incentivisation is a key factor for faster adoption and efforts should focus on rewarding pioneers who take initiative. Community-based business models and incentives should be developed and promoted. «It’s essential to transition from isolated pilot projects to broader-scale initiatives», Gilles Lunzenfichter states, drawing inspiration from successful use cases in countries like Belgium, Sweden, Germany, France and the US, where incentivisation techniques have been effective. For instance, in Belgium, doctors who share data from their devices with the national eHealth system receive financial rewards. In general, a collective vision should unite all IT stakeholders, extending beyond data interoperability, recognising it as just one aspect of the whole healthcare experience.

The Swiss healthcare system in 2050

To conclude the discussion, the panellists shared their visions for the Swiss healthcare system in 2050:

In summary, achieving data interoperability in healthcare holds immense potential for improving patient care and the healthcare ecosystem as a whole. To realise this, it’s crucial to address challenges, incentivise stakeholders, and work together to build a healthcare system that is patient-centric and data-driven.

About the panellists: