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The value of interoperability to nursing

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By: Tiffany Kelley, PhD, MBA, RN-BC

Get involved to improve care delivery.

Tiffany Kelley
Tiffany Kelley

Interoperability is the term used to describe the ability of two or more disparate systems to exchange data. Interoperability primarily is discussed as a technical area or challenge in healthcare. However, it’s as much about clinical care delivery as it is about the technology required to perform it. Nurses who interact with clinical data at an individual or population level must appreciate the importance of interoperability to delivering quality care.

That appreciation begins by recognizing that not all nurses are familiar with the term within clinical care. Instead, nurses might say that clinical information systems don’t provide them with the necessary data and information they need to make clinical decisions about patient care needs. Nurses frequently say that “systems don’t talk to each other.” If you’ve found yourself saying this, or heard it from your peers, that’s interoperability.

When discussing interoperability primarily as technical work, nurses and clinical end users, who rely on the data and information to generate new knowledge and wisdom that benefit individual patient or population healthcare, often are left out of the conversation and decision-making process. Meaningful interoperability can be achieved only with an understanding of who needs what data, when, in which format, and where for end users to access, view, and use it within their established workflows.

With this perspective in mind, nurses have an opportunity to play a pivotal role in transforming access to data that currently reside in multiple clinical information systems within healthcare organizations. The optimal use of data via health information technology (HIT) solutions depends on understanding how care is delivered to patients and formulating data workflows that accommodate those processes. Without nurses involved in designing the next phase of digital solutions through interoperability, we run the risk of perpetuating the current daily workflow challenges.

I believe that we as nurses have a responsibility to advocate not only for our patients but also for our own needs to ensure we deliver the highest quality care for the best possible health outcomes. To do so requires our awareness of the essential roles data and information play within our clinical information systems to support our knowledge and decision making. Entering data into a clinical information system is one aspect of our knowledge needs, but accessing data across complimentary systems has yet to be fully realized.

If you’re a bedside nurse, share with nursing leadership the challenges you face when attempting to access essential clinical data. If you’re in a leadership role, identify the gaps in interoperability that impact care delivery and present them to HIT and informatics teams so they can begin to prioritize those needs. For all nurses, get involved and share your clinical expertise to help design interoperability workflows that meet your clinical needs for quality patient care.

To learn more about interoperability, read this article.

Tiffany Kelley is the Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation Visiting Professor for Innovation and New Knowledge and director of the Healthcare Innovative Online Graduate Certificate program at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing in Storrs. She’s also the founder and chief executive officer of Nightingale Apps and iCare Nursing Solutions and a member of the American Nurse Journal editorial board.

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