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Common approach for the common good

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

To this end, we are part of a community rallying to implement real change in relation to the way healthcare systems communicate and interact with one another. BridgeHead supports, and urges other software vendors to support the techUK Interoperability Charter, which sets out key principles for delivering better integrated health and care. More recently, we joined the CommonWell Health Alliance, which is also committed to helping solve the longstanding problem of interoperability in the health care industry. And, we also actively support Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE), which is an initiative by healthcare professionals and the industry to improve the way computer systems in healthcare share information.

Jim Beagle, President and CEO at BridgeHead Software argues that common standards and an open approach to patient data in healthcare holds the key to successful integration of health and social care.

In his keynote speech to the 2017 Health and Care Innovation Expo earlier this month, Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s National Director of Operations and Information, urged software providers to “not be protective about ‘your’ data”. He added that, “If the patient wants you to share what you’ve got with another clinician who’s treating them, I don’t want to see vendors locking the data down”. Swindells also encouraged those working within the NHS to “drive openness and data sharing into the system” by working with vendors that support this.

The reality is that many hospitals are running multiple applications supplied by different vendors across various departments, often with little or no integration. And, while one might imagine that modern healthcare systems would speak a common language, that simply isn’t the case – with a large number of proprietary applications and data formats at play in the healthcare sector today.

Unfortunately, many vendors simply do not want to embrace open standards. On the one hand, it might be costly for them to change their systems and on the other, it’s likely that they fear losing the control or ‘lock-in’ they have with customers – something that Swindells acknowledged in his address.

Consequently, trying to create a common IT environment in a multi-application, multi-vendor, multi-departmental environment within a single hospital, let alone across the wider health and care ecosystem, is fraught with challenges.

At BridgeHead, we believe that data is the lifeblood of healthcare organisations and should therefore be made accessible and available to those that need it, when they need it, in a clinical setting.

We wholeheartedly support an open standards approach to data management; interoperability of data between systems can only improve the delivery and quality of care. We know that when software vendors adhere to, and embrace, a common approach to healthcare data standards it goes a long way towards developing a truly integrated health and care landscape, which ultimately benefits patients.

To begin with, the interoperability of clinical systems enables healthcare providers to get a 360-degree patient view and facilitates collaboration on more complex and, or, multi-disciplinary cases.

As well as sharing data across different departments within a hospital, there is a growing desire and need to do so across healthcare facilities. And then, of course, there’s NHS England’s drive for wider integration and interoperability across the health and care ecosystem. Indeed, one of the common themes evolving in Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), and their associated Local Digital Roadmaps (LDRs), is a focus on integrated care. We believe that common standards and an open approach to clinical data is key to achieving more joined up health and social care.

Radical transformation

If we look at techUK’s Charter, it stipulates that information systems should be neither financial nor technical obstacles to improvements in patient care, but enablers of change in support of integrated care – we couldn’t agree more.

Recognising that integrated care will radically transform the traditional boundaries between primary, secondary, community and social care, techUK members have committed to making their information systems more open and easier to integrate, to enable the free-flow of patient information across the care continuum.

At BridgeHead, interoperability has always been at the very of core of our business and solutions. We have long embraced ‘common’ healthcare data standards and practices – XDS, HL7, DICOM, to name but a few. By adhering to these common standards, it’s possible to create a truly technology agnostic and standards-based repository for patient data accessible by other healthcare systems, such as EPRs, PACS, clinical portals, and the like.

Patient data is, or should be, a strategic asset viewed in isolation from the application that created it and the storage on which it resides, to enable hospitals to standardise access to key elements of the patient record while simultaneously freeing them from the vendor lock-in mentioned earlier. We believe that healthcare providers should opt for a single, enterprise-wide, repository for all clinical information that is capable of ingesting all manner of data formats from a variety of applications and departments to offer an all-encompassing, future proof solution to the management of hospital data.

With regards to Swindells’ address to the NHS to “drive openness and data sharing into the system”, we recognise this and are driving our customers to make sure these standards are adhered to when it comes to managing their patient information. We’re finding that, in addition to growing pressure to standardise data across healthcare, clinicians are demanding shared systems and information so they can diagnose and treat patients more efficiently and effectively.

It’s only when all healthcare organisations - software vendors, the NHS and local government - support and adhere to these common standards that we will realise the true potential of the patient data for the greater and common good.

Jim Beagle is President and CEO at BridgeHead Software
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

Jim Beagle is President and CEO at BridgeHead Software, a pioneer in healthcare data management, trusted by over 1,200 hospitals worldwide.