Enabling connection and communication across the health system.

Interoperability Overview

Interoperability enables information to flow seamlessly between different solutions and devices. When different parts of the health system are interoperable with each other, they can “speak the same language.” Interoperability improves continuity of care, collaboration between health providers and patient access to their health information. By breaking down data silos, it also reduces inefficiencies and redundancies within the health system.

Connection, collaboration and communication have never been more important for the health system. Increased use of virtual care has highlighted the need for safe and efficient electronic sharing of information across the circle of care. Continuing to improve Canadian health care will necessitate work in interoperability — connected systems are healthier systems.

Patient Summaries

In support of the provinces and territories, Infoway is facilitating a national collaborative effort to advance interoperability. While there are many interoperability-related challenges, the sharing of patient summaries across different solutions has been identified as a priority based on extensive consultations.

Patient summaries are portions of health records comprised of a standardized collection of information. They enable a concise package of patient information to be accessed and updated by patients and clinicians, making it easier to share necessary information between care providers and settings (e.g., acute, primary and specialty care).

A collaborative development process is underway, with the aim of publishing a pan-Canadian Patient Summary specification (PS-CA) for trial implementation by early 2022. Learn more about the PS-CA and how you can get involved.  

Interoperability Illustrated

With interoperable solutions, information flows seamlessly from one solution to another, in the same way that water flows from municipal pipes into your home’s plumbing. If the pipes don’t fit — or the systems can’t talk to each other — that flow dries up.

Imagine that a family physician wants to communicate with a specialist in another practice — but they use two different solutions. While some solutions offer secure messaging capabilities, most cannot communicate with all other systems. Instead of collaborating directly, clinicians develop workarounds using outdated technologies like fax machines.
Image of two puzzle pieces that don't fit.
Currently, different clinical solutions most likely cannot communicate or send secure messages, leading to poor collaboration.

Implementing Interoperability

As interoperability affects every part of the health system, Infoway’s work to support its implementation has been similarly broad. Since its inception in 2001, Infoway has been responsible for licensing, defining and maintaining pan-Canadian standards that promote interoperability. Co-investments by Infoway and the jurisdictions in foundational electronic health record systems such as laboratory systems, patient portals and electronic medical records and electronic health records have also laid a strong foundation for Canadian interoperability.

Increasing use of digital health tools has created renewed impetus to address key interoperability challenges to enable better coordination and continuity of care. With better communication and collaboration between patients and providers, we can help create better health outcomes for all Canadians — and a healthier system overall.

In Privacy as an Enabler: Sharing Personal Health Information for Interoperability Primer we delve into the role privacy plays in the creation of interoperable health systems. The primer provides an introduction to interoperability, an overview of Canadian privacy laws and some practical approaches to privacy for interoperability.

We address the myth that privacy laws mean patient data can’t be shared. We outline how privacy laws enable the sharing of patient data by providing guidance on how to share health data safely, with a patient’s consent, and the responsibilities of both parties when patient info is shared.

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