Medical Device Integration Blog

Integration vs. Interoperability: More than a Matter of Semantics

Posted by Stuart Long, CMSO on Feb 21, 2014 @ 03:11 PM

When it comes to medical device data, the terms “integration” and “interoperability” are often used interchangeably. In reality, though, while device data can currently be integrated into an electronic record, true interoperability of devices is still a far off work in progress.

Let me explain.

Integration is a process of getting disparate technology, such as medical devices and an EMR system, to send and receive intelligible data by the simplest means possible. Interoperability, on the other hand, is far more complex. It is a means of connecting patients, a variety of medical devices and IT systems in a way that brings about new meaning, context and clinical insights through the combination of diverse sources of data. True interoperability should be the catalyst for improved patient care and safety, and real-time clinical workflow by providing an entire suite of functions and meaning from each device, not just a limited set.

Realizing interoperability requires all vendors to work together towards a standardized communication format. This is a major hurdle.

But, for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume we’ve been able to get medical devices to all “speak” the same language. This brings us to a second and more critical hurdle to interoperability and a key differentiator from integration; that is, awareness of what other devices are doing. This goes to the fundamental need to do more than move data to information systems, but to proactively use it in ways that can have immediate clinical impacts.

For example, if I’m a physician with multiple patients, I might want to identify everyone on a cardiac monitor or have better information about a patient population fitting a certain negative trend analysis. This requires awareness by a “system” of networked devices. And it demands the ability to not only understand the devices themselves, but also calls for some intelligence to analyze the data.

Or let’s say I’m infusing a drug into a patient on a ventilator who may have up to 13 devices by the bedside and I’m monitoring their vital signs with an ICU cardiac monitor. Using the data from all those devices can provide awareness of that patient’s true, real-time status. We can use the combined data to help predict where that patient’s condition may be headed. If a pump is infusing a drug at a particular rate, but vital signs are trending in a poor direction and guidelines say we may want to change the infusion or stop the drug, the system needs to be able to assemble some level of analytics or intelligence to notify caregivers that action is called for.

While there are great visions for interoperability in the future, a device integration solution is a proven alternative that can be implemented today. Device integration is a vendor-neutral solution that offers the benefit of using medical device drivers and middleware to normalize data from literally hundreds of devices — each speaking in their own language – into a standard format so that data (not the device itself) can be rendered interoperable. It serves as the fastest and easiest means to establish a platform that has the intelligence and awareness upon which to build interoperability. And, most important, through device integration healthcare organizations can begin to realize some of these futuristic benefits today.


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Tags: Medical Device Connectivity, Medical Device Integration, Interoperability