What is Interoperability and how does it Affect Healthcare?

If you’re at all familiar with local and statewide healthcare systems like the New Jersey Health Information Network (NJHIN), you’ve probably encountered the word ‘interoperability’ numerous times. This term, while not exclusive to healthcare, often comes up when discussing how sectors of the healthcare industry interact with one another. In this blog, we’ll discuss interoperability, exactly what it means, and how it’s utilized within healthcare.

What does Interoperability Mean?

Interoperability is the use of information across a network that enables secure exchange of data.  There are at least two types of interoperability.

  • Syntactic Interoperability – The ability for computer systems to interact through a common data format, despite having different interfaces and programming languages.
  • Semantic Interoperability – The ability for computer systems to interact and share meaningful data through a shared, standardized vocabulary and terminology.

In many cases, computer systems use both types of interoperability to properly share and exchange information. This is often necessary, as it is for NJHIN, because healthcare systems are not standardized.  Data formats and terminology change across different systems and software. 

Interoperability in Healthcare

The healthcare industry has very specific standards, codes, and structures set by SDOs (Standard Development Organizations) which keep data uniform within various types of health systems. These codes may refer to standardized vocabulary (ex. ICD-10 and ICD-11), content standards (ex. C-CDA), privacy and security standards (ex. HIPAA), and more.

According to HealthIT.gov, a system that “allows doctors, nurses, pharmacists, other health care providers and patients to appropriately access and securely share a patient’s vital medical information electronically” is considered a Health Information Exchange (HIE). These exchanges are meant to follow standards provided by certain SDOs as well as national and international standards and are meant to increase efficiency among healthcare systems. The NJHIN is the largest statewide HIE in New Jersey.  Many other states have HIEs to support interoperability and ultimately, patient outcomes.

NJHIN Interoperability

As the only network that facilitates the exchange of personal health information (PHI) across all of New Jersey, the NJHIN centers around promoting interoperability. Unlike other HIEs, the NJHIN connects all aspects of the healthcare system seamlessly to one another, allowing information to flow from patients, physicians, and facilities of all types to the registries and partners managed by the state, creating a vast ecosystem of PHI easily accessible to those who need it in order to deliver quality care to patients throughout the state.

NJHIN has connected over 21,000 New Jersey providers and hospitals, as well as 960+ long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, and Federally Qualified Health Centers are connected to the NJHIN.  As of January 16, 2024, the NJHIN has achieved a significant milestone of exchanging over 1 billion messages. This remarkable achievement underscores New Jersey’s unwavering dedication to advancing healthcare interoperability and improving patient care outcomes statewide. The Master Person Index (MPI) contains over 14 million records, which are kept safe and secure as information is transferred across the state.

The management and operation of this complex network containing sensitive information requires maximum security.  In May of 2022, NJII achieved HITRUST 2-year Certification to Manage Risk, Improve Security Posture, and Meet Compliance Requirements.  This means that under NJII’s management, NJHIN has met key regulations and industry-defined requirements and is appropriately managing risk. This achievement places NJII in an elite group of organizations worldwide that have earned this certification. By including federal and state regulations, standards, and frameworks, and incorporating a risk-based approach, the HITRUST Assurance Program helps organizations address security and data protection challenges through a comprehensive and flexible framework of prescriptive and scalable security controls.

As New Jersey’s flagship for the exchange of health information, NJHIN is the key to secure health IT and interoperability in New Jersey.  Get connected today at https://www.nj.gov/health/njhin/.