What libraries can teach healthcare about interoperability

The healthcare industry should turn to libraries to learn how to share information, according to Charis Anne Baz Takaro, a project/policy analyst at University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley.

Currently, providers are "living in a nightmare" when it comes to sharing information, she says in a post for iHealthBeat. For information exchange to support research and improve health, there must be an investment in data normalization processes that are based on the standard and workflow of data.

A lack of interoperability has been a sticking point for healthcare. In December, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released a shared nationwide roadmap for interoperability. The roadmap's goal is to provide steps to be taken in both the private and public sectors to create an interoperable health IT ecosystem over the next 10 years.

Libraries can be a model for the exchange of data, Takaro says. Prior to the invention of computers, they were able to share information through published catalogs; now, they have standardized rules for description to organize that information available digitally.

These machine readable encoding standards, or MARC, allows the exchange of data, no matter the vendor or operating system, Takaro points out.

An example of libraries seamlessly sharing information can be found in OCLC, a regional network of libraries in Ohio, she says. The system is now a large database where library employees can record books and transmit them to a local database.

While libraries don't have as many challenges as the healthcare industry, she adds, their tradition of sharing information is an advantage with financial benefits.

"Like library data exchange, health information exchange would benefit from using one well-defined exchange format, having rules that allow meaning to move with the data and by building in direct financial rewards," she says.

A recent RAND report found that health information exchanges are still "experiments," and it is not yet known whether they can deliver the interoperability they're intended to provide.

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