West Health's Joseph Smith: Health systems must push for interoperability as a requirement

For interoperability between medical devices to become a reality, providers have to be the ones to ask that integration be a requirement, according to Joseph Smith, M.D., chief medical and science officer at the West Health Institute.

San Diego-based West Health is leading a push for a common language for medical devices; and through a grant from the Gary and Mary West Foundation it created the Center for Medical Interoperability in 2013.

"We've asked the FDA to issue draft guidelines on what interoperability should look like," Smith tells the San Diego Union-Tribune in an interview. "They've said they would, and at this point, they're about six months late."

Vendors are seeing the benefits of interoperability and are beginning to integrate their own product lines, he adds. At the same time, many don't talk to each other because it won't benefit their business; currently, by not having devices that talk to others, vendors retain their competitive advantage.

To that end, Smith says, it's up to the providers to push for change.

"If the big systems start saying, 'We'll only buy stuff if it interoperates,' then you will start to see change happen more rapidly," he says.

Some in the industry, including execs at West Health, have been calling for device interoperability to be a priority in the industry for years.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, earlier this year, released a shared nationwide roadmap for interoperability. Along with the roadmap, ONC also released a draft of 2015 Interoperability Standards Advisory, which "represents ONC's assessment of the best available standards and implementation specifications for clinical health information interoperability as of December 2014."

However, while there's been considerable interest in expanding the scope of the advisory, there has been very little consistency regarding how.

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