Interoperability: Why Can’t Accessing Health Records Be as Easy as Using an ATM?

May 17th, 2012 / By JaeLynn Williams

One of life’s little pleasures is that you can travel anywhere in the world, put your bank card into an ATM machine, and withdraw money in the currency of that country.  It seems magical, and it sets the standard for interoperability of data. On the other hand, one of life’s frustrations is that you can’t move from state to state, from one insurance carrier to another, or even from a hospital to the one across the street, and seamlessly access your personal health record.  Ever wonder why transferring health information is so much harder?

Healthcare by its very nature is much more complex than financial transactions. When clinicians are trying to determine what to do for a particular patient, the information could come from many sources. It could come from information systems in imaging services or the laboratory, from the patient history and physical exam, or from devices such as bedside monitors. These different information sources “talk” in different terms and codes, called terminologies.

The problem is that information from one domain might not be understood by a system in another domain, as if each were speaking a different language such as French or German or Portuguese.  As a result, a system might not recognize the same information being reported from two different areas. The computer needs to be told that these two things are the same.

The 3M Health Data Dictionary (HDD) was designed very specifically to translate what one system “knows,” or understands, in a way that can be communicated to other systems. The translation preserves the context and meaning of the original information. When the data is exchanged, it can be understood correctly in a different environment. It is a valuable resource for cross-mapping and translation—like a Rosetta Stone for medical terminology.

The availability of common information models and terminology provide the foundation from which organizations can create shared applications and content.  If this foundation doesn’t exist, we will not be able to realize the healthcare reform vision of facilitating the seamless exchange of healthcare data.

To accelerate the exchange of data and drive innovation in the healthcare industry, 3M Health Information Systems has opened access to the 3M HDD under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The 3M HDD software and terminology content will be openly available to hospitals, healthcare delivery networks, physician practices, payers, vendors, and public health agencies worldwide

Or, in layman’s terms, open access to the 3M HDD will provide the foundation for the industry to accelerate innovations, so that the exchange of healthcare data between organizations becomes as seamless as withdrawing euros from an ATM in Paris.

JaeLynn Williams is Senior Vice President, Marketing and Client Operations with 3M Health Information Systems.