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An Increasingly Practical View for World Standards Day

To add to the interest and focus on the common language of standards I've been impressed lately by several practical views and definitions of that common aspiration – the interoperability of our health information and systems. Too often we have demonstrated ‘techno speak’ with our use of the formal semantic interoperability and functional interoperability concepts. Quite correct in many communications, but not totally useful when talking with many of our health care colleagues outside of informatics or technology.

A recent post and an ONC HIT roadmap presentation have both shown a very practical view of interoperability. Allscripts Chief Innovation Officer, Stanley Crane, in a blog post titled “Interoperability is as simple as good communication” noted that interoperability just means communication. “All you need to do is two things: 1. Deliver the message to the recipient and 2. Ensure the recipient can understand it.” There in simple words is what functional and semantic interoperability is all about: Delivery of the message and ensuring understanding.

A second view, provided in the Office of the National Coordinator HIT presentation, A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap – Final Version 1.0 also gave a straightforward definition of interoperability. “The ability of a system to exchange electronic health information with and use electronic health information from other systems without special effort on the part of the user.” The Interoperability Roadmap goes on, for many slides, with a very interesting description of the vision, drivers, components and milestones for a 10 year interoperability future.

The value in both these views and the easy to use language embodied therein is that we can communicate our standards purpose and work much more effectively with our clinical and executive colleagues by use of the pragmatic and simple. The digital health community is targeting many of our current projects and initiatives to deliver the health information needed, ensure that it is commonly understood and to do so, without extra effort by our many digital health users, from patients to clinicians and every healthcare provider. Yes, we are targeting an interoperable future for health information and systems, but really we are targeting communication of health information…delivered and understood, with ease.

That is a valuable message to deliver and is understandable by everyone. And on the 2015 World Standards Day – October 14, lets continue advancing interoperability as a communication ability enabled by the common language of standards.


Don Newsham

About Don Newsham

 Don is a health care executive, senior consultant, national and international health information and technology leader, featured eHealth conference speaker and a former CEO, CIO , CFO and Health Practice Director with over 37 years’ experience in Canadian and global healthcare, in public, private and non-profit sectors.

Don Newsham is also the recent past CEO of COACH, Canada’s Health Informatics Association, the 2000 plus member association taking health informatics mainstream in Canada. His leadership over 15 years with COACH focused on advancing the Association as the voice for the health informatics profession in Canada and building the professionalism, practices and adoption of health informatics across the Canadian health care system.

Don currently undertakes numerous standards roles on behalf of Canada at ISO/TC215 as standards set developer, expert lead and Head of Delegation, in the Canadian Digital Health standards community and partnership and as a member of the international Joint Initiative Council of collaborating standards development organizations.

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