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Interoperability is as simple as good communication

Please don’t trouble yourself with newfangled words like “interoperability” or “bi-directional data exchange” – at the end of the day, it just means “communication.” To communicate, all you need to do is two things: 1. Deliver the message to the recipient and 2. Ensure the recipient can understand it.

That’s it. If you can get the message from A to B (people or computer systems), in a language they can understand, you have communicated. It’s really that simple.

If you can’t hear me (or see the page I’ve written), clearly communication did not happen. And beyond that, if you can’t understand me because you only speak English and I am speaking in Latvian, communication did not happen.

Computer systems work exactly the same way. Can you get the data transmitted from one system to another? And once you get it there, can the receiving system understand what you sent? It’s not more complicated than that.

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be

One of the things that bothers me enormously is when other technology types take that simple concept and make it seem much more complicated.

Of course over the decades I’ve seen this play out many times as people make something seem far more difficult and mysterious than it really is. As a contractor, you can convince the client it will take months of extra work. As a junior developer, if you make it seem really hard, imagine the kudos when you finish it? Or managers who want to engorge their staffs because this project is so complex.

In health care, at times, communication is literally a life and death matter. This is a terrible time to inflate complexity of the problem. And yet that’s what seems to be happening – even more now that there is a small momentum building to demand that Health IT systems simply communicate with each other.

How Open APIs can open the lines of communication

Application program interfaces (APIs) should be open. They should give a roadmap for how to communicate with Health IT solutions, and what content will make your message most successful. At Allscripts, we’ve invested years in helping partners efficiently communicate with our solutions through the Allscripts Developer Program, the results of which appear in the Allscripts Application Store.

There are two tests that you should apply to any IT communication methodology:

  1. How do you make sure the system can transmit the message to the receiving system?
  2. Once it arrives at the receiving system, how can you be sure the receiver understands the message?

And in the healthcare world, there are two more tests you should apply:

  1. How can you be sure the receiving system has the right security clearance to see that data?
  2. How is that exchange of data audited, giving visibility to who accessed which patient’s records, and by which systems?

With Allscripts Open APIs, we require a clinical user to be supplied with all calls for patient data. That user defines how we will approach the data. We ask, “Can that user see all of the data, only some of the data, or none of the data?” That’s how we make sure the receiving system has the security clearance to see what we will send them.

For auditing, that too is taken care of inside our Open APIs. We don’t want our receiving systems to be burdened with having to remember who looked at what, and having to do the auditing manually. That also means the existing audit reports will clearly show all accesses of patient information.

Do Open APIs make communication simpler?

Does it really work? The proof is in speed. Typical  interfaces can take about six weeks to create – to establish communication and go through the training process. Using our Open API, we’ve been able to connect ADP partners to clients in under an hour. From the time the client signed a contract, to the time the partner was live in the client environment was under 60 minutes – with our current record being 43 minutes.

Open APIs make communication easier, faster and cheaper. It’s simple; Send the message in a language the recipient already understands. That’s all communication means.

And that’s what we all need as patients.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Allscripts Open APIs, visit Allscripts Booth #300 at the Health 2.0 9th Annual Fall Conference October 5-7, 2015.

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