One of the highlights of next week’s Healthcare Information Management Systems Society’s HIMSS12 conference in Las Vegas will undoubtedly be the Interoperability Showcase. In the past HIMSS Interoperability Showcases have served “the healthcare community by promoting uptake of standards-based solutions that improve the potential for health information exchange between systems, providers, and organizations in order to optimize clinical care,” according to the official website for the showcase.

More specifically, HIMSS12, in conjunction with the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise(IHE) initiative, will include a feature called HIMSS Live Exchange which will “help attendees understand what standards based interoperability solutions have done for their clinical workflow. “

Many are predicting the standards for interoperability of healthcare IT systems to be included in Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use criteria. Currently, what many are calling interoperability functions on two scales: the interoperability between IT systems within the same organization and the interoperability between systems of different organizations.

A healthcare organization, whether it is a provider, vendor, or administrator, will have its own system in place. Inside of that system are often different components that perform functions and produce various types of medical data. Providers are increasingly looking to link these components together so that they might work in concert to deliver more efficient and comprehensive care.

Two primary standards have been developed with respect to interoperability and electronic medical systems. Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) is a standard that sets guidelines for medical imaging devices and how these devices capture, store, and communicate information. Health Level Seven (HL7) is a standard developed for the management and exchange of electronic health information.

These standards have set guidelines for vendors and operators of medical devices and electronic medical data, but standards for interoperability between devices are still being developed. The Medical Device Plug n Play (MD PnP) program is one organization currently working to develop tools and standards that might create an “ecosystem” of cohabitating databases, tools, and applications.

Organizations also look to exchange medical and clinical data collected in accordance with DICOM and HL7 standards. The IHE “promotes the coordinated use of established standards such as DICOM and HL7 to address specific clinical need in support of optimal patient care,” according to the organization’s website.

In the November edition of Healthcare Financial Management, John Glaser, CEO of Siemens Healthcare Health Services, proposed three approaches to supporting “active and powerful classes of interoperable organizational processes.”

First, Glaser suggests “one organization extending its systems into another” and thereby causing both organizations to engage in a deep, substantive collaboration. This collaboration would result in a joint effort to refine their collaborative processes.

Second, Glaser writes, “two or more organizations using exchanged data” could “address problems or opportunities of mutual interest.”  This exchange of data would help to create “a new shared process” benefiting the organizations in a myriad of ways.

The third approach to supporting interoperability between organizations according to Glaser is leveraging a data exchange between two of more organizations as a “tool in a joint effort to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of an existing interorganizational process.”

Whatever the approach used, Glaser concludes, “Healthcare information exchange and interoperability is a fundamental requirement for the nation’s healthcare system to derive the societal benefits promised by the adoption of EHRs.”