In today’s healthcare landscape, many organizations are faced with the question of how to connect their EHR to disparate systems. Hospitals and clinics need data from their lab and imaging vendors. They also need to be able to send information to referral clinics and to Health Information Exchanges. Today, providers require a dependable and effective means of exchanging information with partners and affiliates. At the end of the day, the main objective of interfacing is to “streamline workflow and the revenue objectives of efficiently establishing productive relationships with referring physicians” and other systems. To accomplish this feat, healthcare orgs typically adopt one of two strategies, each with its own advantages and disadvantages: point-to-point interfaces or an interface engine.
In a point-to-point interface, the receiving organization (the recipient of the healthcare data) provides a set of specifications to the sending organization including:
- What type of data will the system be receiving?
- What format does it need to be in?
The sending organization then builds an interface to meet those specifications. The interface is only used for that one line of communication. For every new application that requires an interface, this process needs to be repeated over and over again. There are advantages and disadvantages to a point-to-point interface.
- This method is cost effective for interfaces that do not change or do not change quickly.
- This method can become expensive if the healthcare organization requires multiple interfaces to be built
- This method doesn’t provide a way to monitor interfaces to determine connection status
- This method doesn’t provide the ability to review message logs, to determine whether or not acknowledgements were received, or to go back and look at the history of traffic over a particular interface
- Interface complexity increases as the number of interfaces grow – managing the communication environment becomes challenging
Instead of vying for a point-to-point (one-to-one) solution to interfacing disparate systems, a growing number of healthcare organizations are turning to interface engines in order to meet their integration needs. An interface engine transforms or maps data to the receiving organization’s requirements after it leaves the sending organization’s system. If a value needs changing or if a lookup table needs to be used to switch from one set of values to another, interface engines can easily do this. They are built with a one-to-many concept in mind, and allow for message traffic to be easily monitored and maintained. In addition, there are several other advantages to using an interface engine:
- Reduces the dependency on multiple vendors to make changes in the format of messages to be sent or received
- Leverages one import or export module from core applications (e.g., HIS, RIS, LIS, etc…) and distributes interfaces to multiple applications productively
- Improves physician and client support through proactive interfacing monitoring and message log management
- Enables flexibility to adapt to different HL7 message standards, XML healthcare standards, etc… as well as different application data format specifications
- Lowers overall interface cost by repurposing an application’s import/export module to multiple applications
- One potential disadvantage of using an interface engine is it adds another piece of software that needs to be maintained and/or worked by your staff in order to maintain interfaces. If your organization only has one or two interfaces, it may be easier to use the point-to-point solution.
When one considers the effort involved in maintaining several point-to-point interfaces and the growing emphasis on interconnectivity in healthcare, the disadvantages of managing a new piece of software start to look minor. If your organization is planning on connecting with multiple sources, this will require the development of multiple interfaces. Chances are an interface engine solution may make sense.
When selecting an interface engine, there should be several areas of focus. For a summary of helpful tips and tools for finding potential candidates to handle your integration needs, look out for our second installment of this Healthcare Interoperability series. The second installment will include a summary of various areas an organization should focus on when considering an interface engine and will provide guidance on how to properly assess whether or not an interface engine will be capable of meeting your organization’s needs effectively. To find more about our suite of solutions, check out our Technical Integration Services page.
Corporation, Intersystems. Nine Questions to Ask Before Replacing an Interface Engine (n.d.): n. pag. http://www.intersystems.com/assets/Nine_Questions-6fe215919b0e9e89d0e6e07182132a4f.pdf.
Health, Corepoint. What Is Your Healthcare Interface Approach? (n.d.): n. pag. http://www.corepointhealth.com/sites/default/files/whitepapers/healthcare-clinical-interface-solution.pdf.