Standards and Interoperability, vital for welfare technology?

Posted on: 04.04.2017 Tags:

eHealth Week


“No one said it was going to be easy, everyone said it was going to be worth it”. That is the title of a dedicated session around the topic of Ehealth Standards and Interoperability” during eHealth Week 2017 in Malta. One cannot disagree with title’s message.

This is not a new challenge that we are facing but it definitely a great one, I would even say that that it has become even greater than ever before as the total market grows and the amount of new players entering the market.

“The global e-Health market is estimated at USD 124 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach USD 244 billion by 2021, growing at a CAGR of 14.56% during the forecast period”.[1]

What could we hope to achieve?

As a healthcare professional, interoperability would definitely help with improving the quality but especially increased safety of care through improved coordination where patient information is up to date and readily accessible. Additionally, professionals could have better access to evidence-based clinical guidelines.

The patient would feel more secure of receiving the correct treatments at the right time as access to previous medical history would be there at the click of a button.

One of the biggest problems today in healthcare is the waste of resources and money. Interoperable systems result in significant decreases in integration and implementation costs. A CAT scan from one hospital could easily be transferred and used by other professionals, eliminating the need to redo expensive tests.

New start-ups and SMEs could have an easier time to compete and reduce the costs for development, enabling further innovation and investments into this area instead of being the domain of today’s big companies. Healthcare institutions would definitely benefit from a standardised framework as it facilitates flexibility to switch technology providers, which may prove more efficient, innovative and less costly.

Today without a common standardisation it might not matter how great of a solution a start-up or SME brings to the market, as care providers are stuck with inefficient and expensive solutions due to the complexity of switching. A standardised framework has the potential to dramatically increase competition which can lead to benefits for professionals and patients alike.

Working towards a global framework

Standardisation is at the absolute core of enabling a global framework for interoperability, we treat people, create solutions for people and deliver care to people. Access to healthcare for everyone is a basic human right.

The current situation is however pushing over 100 million people below the poverty line due to expensive healthcare.[2] A global solution enabled by standardisation leading to interoperability could save tremendous amounts, enabling more people around the world to achieve this human basic right. Universal health coverage might sound like an almost unachievable goal today, but with the fast paced technological advances and investments into eHealth, I certainly hope that we will be able to see this happen in our life time.

We do not have a lack of standards within healthcare, there is a substantial amount of various standardisations available already. What is lacking is a clear understanding of which standards to use and not to mention how they are to be used.

What challenges could be potentially expected and is it worth it?

I think everyone in the eHealth field agree that the end vision of full interoperability makes the tough journey worthwhile. Of the USD 2.3 trillion in 2016 spend in the US alone on healthcare, some estimates state that close to a third of this is waste due to inefficiency[3], which interoperability could reduce for the benefit of all parties in the healthcare chain. As the total eHealth market grows globally, wasteful practices will reduce but still moving slowly forward.

Interoperability is complex enough to solve on a national level, so with a global view, the challenge becomes even more complex as there are no overarching standardisation that all countries are bought into. On top of this, countries have their own laws and regulations which need to be aligned for global interoperability. Without a strong uniting force that will drive the agenda, I think we are going to see incremental improvements on a local level within interoperability for the coming years, moving us towards the right direction. In my previous blog post on blockchain[4], interoperability was used as an example of how future technology could speed things up.

Let us continue exchange insights and knowledge around this very important and interesting topic at eHealth Week 2017, 10 -12 May in Malta. For more information, please visit


Maria Marenco

Independent Health Informatics Consultant, Sweden/UK/Malta