Why interoperability can lead to better care

Last updated on 27 January 2023

A number of issues can occur if your electronic systems cannot properly communicate. [Source: Shutterstock]

The modernisation of aged care has seen new technologies adopted into practice that enhance the lifestyles of older people living in residential aged care, while also improving the efficiency of work completed by staff.

As businesses explore the key benefits of incorporating more technology into daily routines, you may find that while individual technologies, like online rostering, care notes or medication management systems, have sped up some processes, they still impact the overall workload because the different systems are not communicating with each other. 

This is where interoperability comes in. It simply means ensuring your online systems and applications can ‘talk’ to each other and share resident or staff information to make it easily accessible to everyone that needs it. 

Without interoperability, visiting doctors could miss valuable insights about a patient’s state of health, or data could be interpreted incorrectly and the wrong dosage of medication prescribed. And ultimately you’ll find yourself – or your staff –  working twice as hard to ensure quality care outcomes are being achieved in an efficient manner.

When implemented correctly, interoperability will lead to better efficiencies and care outcomes overall. Here is what you need to know to achieve interoperability in your business.

What is interoperability?

At its core, interoperability is quite simple – it refers to the ability of different computer systems (applications) and devices to seamlessly work together and communicate data and information. 

Examples of electronic systems include electronic medical records, medication management systems, telehealth technologies and even staff rostering and management systems. 

For two or more systems to be interoperable, they must be able to accurately exchange real-time data in a way that each system and its users can understand. 

This should not only occur at an organisational level but also throughout the aged care and healthcare system as a whole to ensure health and resident information can be shared in a timely fashion.

There are four distinct layers to interoperability:

  • Foundational/syntactic: The interconnectivity requirements needed for systems to securely send and receive data, including cloud-based networks or local access networks (LANs)
  • Structural: The format, syntax and organisation of data that ensures it can be exchanged without loss of meaning, e.g. the format of data fields in your database has to match that of external healthcare providers and vice versa 
  • Semantic: The use of standardised definitions to arrange data in a presentable manner so it can be instantly understood and shared by users once received 
  • Organisational: The large-scale supports provided by governance, policy and legal considerations to support the secure, seamless and timely communication of data between organisations and individuals

Why does interoperability matter?

A number of issues can occur if aged care and general healthcare systems cannot properly communicate. 

Overall, the lack of interoperability can lead to a lower quality of care for residents and increased costs for businesses – but there is slightly more to the problem.

Lack of continuity of care

Without access to a resident’s complete medical history, healthcare professionals may not have a complete picture of their health, which can lead to incorrect management and treatment decisions. 

For residents under your duty of care, this could mean there are issues with how information is shared with external healthcare providers and professionals, or just between nursing staff and allied health professionals within your organisation.

Medication errors

If healthcare professionals do not have access to a resident’s medication history they may prescribe medications that interact negatively with other medications already being taken. Not only that, but a disconnect between pharmacists and doctors from multiple jurisdictions can increase the risk of errors or improper prescribing of medications. 

Research shows that for every 100 medications, there are 72.6 record errors due to a lack of interoperable systems between aged care facilities and general practitioners (GP). Up to 50% of those errors may cause moderate to severe harm. 

With 81% of aged care residents being prescribed high-risk combinations of medication, clear communication between systems has never been more important. 

Increased costs and reduced efficiency

Without interoperable systems, staff may have to repeat tasks, spend additional time following up, and manually update information. As a result, staff are forced to duplicate tasks or spend additional time on admin work when they could be providing direct care. 

Not only can the reduced efficiency prove costly, but it means residents lose out on time they could otherwise spend with professionals who can improve their quality of care.

How does interoperability benefit aged care?

Interoperability ultimately delivers better care for your residents. First and foremost, by having interoperable systems that communicate directly with one another, your direct care staff can quickly coordinate care requirements with other relevant healthcare professionals.

This means any information shared to your systems is up-to-date, while you can then send that same data to external parties who will need to access it through their own clinical information systems.

For example, instead of faxing or emailing documents, the resident data uploaded in your aged care home can then be shared with systems that are accessed by clinicians or general practitioners elsewhere. 

Every relevant party has accurate data that can be used for the ongoing care of a resident and they can quickly adapt to any changes in real time.

The quick and easy access to online information also improves productivity and efficiency for busy staff. Less time is spent trying to access and share information, and more time is spent on providing care or directly engaging with residents. 

With fewer resources required for the manual upload of information, you can save costs or place much-needed resources into direct care requirements, new equipment, therapies and activities. 

How can interoperability be achieved?

There are a few key steps that can be taken to ensure your systems are interoperable, starting with the adoption of common data standards.

If your business is having issues with the transfer of resident healthcare data, you want to ensure your systems are speaking the same language. Adopting common data standards ensures that the information is not lost in translation and that it can be exchanged in a consistent and meaningful way. 

You can find more information on Australian health data and information standards here

Implementing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) will also benefit your business. APIs are a set of protocols and tools that allow different systems to communicate with each other. By implementing APIs, your systems can share information in real-time even if they are not the same type of system.

This can be achieved through the use of your own IT infrastructure or through a third-party provider if you choose.

The use of electronic health records will also provide you with comprehensive coverage of resident information. You can access all relevant information via interoperable systems as you eliminate paper from your business and set up new applications and online infrastructure. 

It’s important to note that interoperability is a complex and ongoing process, it requires collaboration and cooperation among different aged care and healthcare, and it may take time to fully implement. 

Your business may also be in a position where your internal systems communicate perfectly but external organisations are not set up for interoperability. In this case, organisational interoperability on a larger scale is required as a combined effort will help you make progress. 

Have you introduced new systems to achieve interoperability? Share your experience in the comments below.

aged care
residential aged care
direct care