Interoperability in 2019: watch this space

20 December 2018: Interoperability is a journey, not a destination. But in 2019 we’ll be making big strides.

The achievement of interoperability is not a single milestone in the evolution of a digital health system. It is many events, each characterised by the ability to meaningfully connect different systems that previously remained separate and incommunicative. Progress in the interoperability space is thus characterised by many successive and coordinated achievements, each one adding to the overall interconnectedness of Australia’s national digital health system.

The coordination of these achievements is central to the success of Australia’s interoperability efforts. By its very nature, this work is about sharing information between systems, which requires mechanisms to make information available and to consume it, and demands confidence in the meaning of that information. It is intrinsically not a problem that a sole clinical software vendor, healthcare provider, or organisation can solve. Efforts to advance this sharing that are not broadly consultative and widely accepted are unlikely to succeed.

It is worth emphasising that interoperability is not a goal state in and of itself. What is important is the many ways in which a more interoperable health care system can provide a safer, more accessible, productive, and satisfying experience for clinicians and patients alike.

With this in mind, the Agency’s interoperability engagement takes two district flavours:

  • a broad and genuinely consultative approach, with a focus on co-design; and
  • addressing a series of issues of societal significance, with a focus on collaborative solutions.

There are also two supporting streams of work:

  • redefining the process and roles for the development and ratification of standards and specifications for healthcare in Australia; and
  • development of a maturity index/accreditation framework.

For most of these priority issues, the Agency will establish a community of interest. Each community of interest will be open to community, clinical, industry, and jurisdictional organisations with expertise and relevant experience. Consultation will be solutions-focussed and will typically take the following form:

  1. What problem(s) are we trying to solve?
  2. What steps should we collectively take to address this?
  3. For each step:
    • what would this look like in tangible, implementable terms?
    • what are the implications and the dependencies of this approach?
    • who needs to do what?
    • what is a realistic timeframe?
    • what other consequences need to be considered?

The result of these consultations will be published in a draft of the National health interoperability strategy and roadmap, a new document that will serve to focus and align government and industry planning and development, as we work together to build a robust, safe, interconnected health system for the 21st century.

The primary purpose of the roadmap is to document the agreed actions that the stakeholders will collectively pursue and implement. For the roadmap to translate into reality we must ensure that the goals of the program are deconstructed into steps that are agreed, incremental, implementable, and unambiguously standardised.

Brad McCulloch is the Agency's Program Manager, Interoperability.