6 October 2021

Want interoperability? Give us a reason

Technology

The major barrier to industry-wide software interoperability for health is not any of the usual suspects.


Championing the cause of interoperability standards may be noble, but medical software industry experts predict that Australia won’t see much success until both vendors and system users can agree on clear incentives.

Speaking at a Wild Health webinar on the relationship between standards and the future success – or failure – of interoperability in Australian digital health, Medical Software Industry Association CEO Emma Hossack said that it was a lack of interest, not ability, which was holding the industry back.

The example of e-prescribing showed health could swiftly and smoothly adopt and integrate technology when it was in its interest.

“[We saw 60+ companies] adopt, upgrade and move really fast, fairly seamlessly,” she said.

“So it’s not a technical issue then, as I see it.

“[E-prescribing] was a situation where the user needed to have the technology and was being rewarded to use it, and the technology company had a [solid] business case to enable them to [develop and] maintain the system.”

According to Ms Hossack, systems with a need for software developers to provide ongoing maintenance is the key to creating a strong interoperability “chain”.

“If you haven’t got people that you can rely on upstream, downstream and in the middle, then you’re not going to be interoperable, you’re just not going to risk it,” she said.

Moderated by Wild Health/TMR publisher Jeremy Knibbs, other panel members included:

  • Department of Health first assistant secretary of benefits & integrity Daniel McCabe,
  • US deputy national coordinator for health IT Steven Posnack,
  • Best Practice chief product officer Danielle Bancroft,
  • as well as industry veteran and RMIT digital planning researcher David Rowlands.

The United States have taken a markedly different approach to governing the medical software industry, having passed a law which effectively prevents vendors who aren’t up to a certain level of interoperability from participating the market.

Despite this relatively restrictive approach, Mr Posnack said that although it was still early days, there had been relative success so far.

“A lot of what we’re doing in terms of working on standards and the adoption of technologies also improves clinical workflow,” he said.

“We’re finding new ways to do automation, new ways to bring insights into point of care, and those are things that people get behind, because it makes a difference to their day-to-day activities.”

Ms Bancroft, however, said she felt Australia could put a strong enough governance framework in place to pursue a less rigid approach.

“Where there’s transparency, there’s appropriate buy-in by all of the relevant groups – that’s technology vendors, the users, the consumers and of course, the government, the payer,” she said.

“I think we might actually be able to do a more nuanced, slightly more sophisticated approach to standards where we don’t just say ‘okay, everyone’s got to use just PDF and share’.

“I’m not saying that that’s what the American approach is, but when you start regulating through legislation, you lose the ability to be flexible.”

The next Wild Health webinar, a panel discussion on what post-pandemic digital models of care might look like, is on Tuesday 26 October.

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