The importance of data interoperability for healthcare

Dan Hydes - The importance of data interoperability for healthcare

If digital health in the UK is to remain competitive, interoperability must be at the heart of its strategies.

Top 5 takeaways
1. Data underpins everything
2. Improving data interoperability is a challenge in clinical research
3. Hospitals are looking to make their research functions more agile and cost-effective
4. Interoperability is key to standardised digital vaccination records
5. Efficient data exchanges means improved accuracy for patients

At the start of the year, in a speech at the Digital Health Rewired Festival, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced that interoperability would be essential to good practice in digital and data-driven technologies1.

If 2020 redefined healthcare for good, 2021 is the year the industry set out to recalibrate lessons from the pandemic, looking ahead to a recovery programme. We’re leading healthcare in a different world, and we need to ensure the strategies we have can keep pace with the brave, new post-Covid world we’re operating in.

From global teams accelerating vaccine projects, through to minimising patient care disruption – data underpins all of this. And yet, improving data interoperability remains one of the greatest challenges in clinical research, affecting virtually every study currently running. Which is why, for digital health in the UK to remain competitive, interoperability has to become front and centre of digital healthcare strategies.

The business case
Right now, at least 50% of data required for clinical studies can be found in patient records, but the process of accessing it remains primarily manual. And while source data verification (SDV) has long ensured the integrity of data, there are growing industry concerns over real weaknesses identified in terms of the huge amount of time and staff resource required and the return on investment (ROI).

Inevitably, Covid-19 accelerated new questions around the efficacy of SDV, not least due to the challenges around placing monitors onsite to manage data. But we also need to think about the resource – the cost of manual transcription and checking of data costs.

We need more digital health applications enhancing the interoperability of electronic health records (EHR) and supporting research applications such as electronic data capture (EDC), for example. This new level of efficiency will drive a paradigm shift in the way clinical research is conducted, reducing costs and freeing up staff resources; a particular priority for NHS improvement programmes.

“We’re leading healthcare in a different world, and we need to ensure the strategies we have can keep pace with the brave, new post-Covid world we’re operating in”

Clinical research efficiencies
As the healthcare industry responds to the backlog of clinical research, hospitals are rapidly seeking ways to make their research functions more agile and cost-effective, as well as enabling them to engage better with a broad range of revenue generating, research entities. Running adjacent to this is the additional benefit of deploying staff resources more effectively, which in turn helps with both retention and recruitment.

With more hospitals looking to become ‘eSource-ready’, platforms like Archer effectively act like a virtual research assistant, enhancing interoperability between EHR and key research applications such as EDC. Alongside mirroring the traditional manual process, Archer ensures that individual hospitals retain full control of the data transfer process, while offering a unified solution that works with all major hospital EHR and sponsor’s EDC systems.

NHS data management
A huge part of the Covid-19 exit strategy will be analysing the consequences of the virus to better understand how we treat people in the future. From a research perspective, this means extracting critical information for decision making. Interoperability’s efficiencies are designed to catalyse data management, so are integral to designing the future of Covid-19 treatments.

Interoperability is also at the core of the global initiative establishing a standard for digital vaccination records. Driven by HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), this is the standard that ensures health records are interoperable between providers, so is key to rolling out digital healthcare programmes.

The benefits go further. With secure, efficient data exchanges increasingly at the centre of effective healthcare, next generation Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) will enable impactful data exchanges between EHR platforms and devices in a more significant way in 2021. What this means for patients is improved accuracy and quicker diagnoses, as well as more efficient care plans.

Encouraging innovation
Recently, we announced a new collaboration with AstraZeneca. It’s a game-changing technical proof of concept and pilot programme with Archer, running over several months at two hospital sites. We’re a small, government-backed start-up based in Reading, working with a pharmaceutical leader, on track to revolutionise the way clinical trials are conducted at hospitals. And while it’s just the first steps on a much longer journey to solve an industry-wide problem, it shows what is possible for new thinkers and inspires a culture of collaboration, embedding clinical research as a priority.

Covid-19 has shown us that we need to think differently, more innovatively and listen to new ideas coming through, as we take away the lessons of 2020. The potential for improved interoperability within the UK’s healthcare system is huge, and with digital health solutions at the centre, it is possible to transform the future of clinical research.



Dan Hydes is CEO and co-founder of IgniteData. Go to