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Innovation and HIS

How to fix interoperability in healthcare

Lifen's lead engineer Félix Le Chevallier explains how interoperability impacts innovation


Sharing data between healthcare practitioners is a broken process: when a patient is admitted to any healthcare facility around the world, a number of reports are drafted by the inpatient care team and shared with the patient’s outpatient care team or family doctor. These surgery reports, discharge letters or prescriptions, among other documents, are essential to ensure an optimal follow-up once the patient is allowed to go home.

The problem is: even if most practitioners these days use secure messaging systems, the healthcare sector still struggles to seamlessly connect their ancillary Electronic Health Records to national patient record systems and secure messaging systems from different vendors or of different versions.

What does this mean? Millions of reports are printed on paper daily and sent by postal mail (more often than not manually by clerical staff), then individually scanned and uploaded to the recipient practitioner’s Patient Management System. It’s a lengthy process, and there is a considerable risk of crucial information being lost along the way.

How medical data is shared in the real world

The inconvenient truth is that despite France having remarkably advanced digital solutions,  Government-led eHealth acceleration programmes, and a high level of digital literacy, postal mail remains the default link between different facilities and practitioners. This amounts to hundreds of millions spent yearly on printing, posting and sending medical records. It is safe to say that the French healthcare system can use some help to boost its sustainability, time-efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

A large hospital group is a maze of different software, different versions, protocols… and sometimes even outdated solutions. Making sure all these different systems work together seamlessly requires advanced interoperability that relies on a common language.

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The state of interoperability in healthcare

A lingua franca is the sine qua non of interoperability - in an open system with many components, you need a common standard with which they can communicate. This is also the key to making the addition of new components into the stack easier, speedier and less costly.

Let’s take a look at the most common healthcare standards (or common languages) below:

  • HL7 v2, a pipe-separated flat-file standard, found in every large healthcare organisation to communicate internally between healthcare services
  • CDA, an XML-based markup standard intended to specify the encoding, structure and semantics of clinical documents for exchange
  • FHIR, a (relatively) new standard based on modern HTTP Rest APIs that is gaining traction all over the sector, from GAFAMs to startups

As we can see, there are many standards to choose from - this is not a good thing.

Most of these standards are reasonably lax because… well, health data is quite complex! This means that most of these can be interpreted and implemented differently.

But why is that a problem? Large healthcare facilities partner with Enterprise Application Interfaces (EAI) that develop connectors and mappers between different standards - or different ways of speaking the same standard. Each new component in the infrastructure needs a connector, and consequently, global upgrades to new standards are out of reach - they are neither practicable nor affordable.

And let’s not disregard the digital health boom and everything it entails - in France alone, this sector saw the creation of 400 different products, amounting to 2 billion US dollars in funding. There is no denying that digital health is a vital part of the hospital of the future.

But what does this mean for the hospitals of the present? They can now choose from a plethora of different solutions - from telemedicine to medication intelligence, not forgetting valuable diagnostic assistance tools such as wearables. Most of these solutions are cloud-based and need to be interoperable with existing IT systems. However, this is not time-consuming, costly and hard to achieve without advanced expertise.

How Lifen helps

Lifen Platform can be a valuable partner to digital health solutions and healthcare facilities. Lifen’s Integration Engine comes with a suite of expert interoperability tools and has already connected hundreds of cloud-based solutions to all kinds of electronic health record and patient administration systems.

How does it work? Once Lifen has deployed a connector (be it SFTP, HL7, CDA-r2 or FHIR, just to name a few), it can be leveraged for the future integration of different products and services. This drastically curbs the time, effort and cost of integrating additional technology for all parties. The most innovative services and products can now be accessed by administrators and users with a single click!

Lifen has over 700 hospital and clinic customers, representing 40% of the national healthcare system. These organisations are early adopters of technology and ideal candidates to benefit from innovation. Lifen’s network gives any digital health solution seeking to enter the French healthcare system a tremendous advantage with potential end-users and facilities.

Healthcare organisations that have invested heavily in existing IT systems yet often struggle to use them to their fullest potential due to various factors, including interoperability, can now benefit from Lifen’s expertise to enhance their flexibility, security and sustainability. In joining Lifen Platform, they can expect to go up to 90% paperless and see cutting-edge digital health solutions seamlessly integrated into their legacy systems three times faster and for a much lower cost.

Félix Le Chevallier

Félix Le Chevallier is a data science and engineering expert with over a decade of experience in the research and development of Artificial Intelligence-powered solutions in a deep tech environment. He has been a part of Lifen since its inception in 2015, where currently serves as Head of Data Platform. Félix is a graduate of the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique in France, where he majored in innovation and technology management.

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