Commentary - I hate being the bearer of bad news, but I can tell you, with 100 percent certainty, that your integration strategy is going to fail. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when your strategy fails, there will be a start-up with only a handful of employees and even less money waiting in the wings to take over your market share. I am not trying to paint a gloomy picture; I am just sharing hardcore facts upfront.
You might be wondering “Why is our integration strategy going to fail?” Here are some of the key reasons:
1. You don’t recognize that you need a strategy versus a solution
There are many philosophies and strategies when it comes to integration and there may not be one perfect approach. However, the true secret to success might just be in the realization that a strategy is even necessary.
Organizations that overlook the need to develop and execute an integration strategy might be able to overcome some of the immediate hurdles facing them, but stand to lose out in the bigger game being played throughout the market.
When done well, integration forms the backbone of an organization and can position it for real growth. Integration is all about connecting multiple systems so that they can share meaningful data to improve workflow, patient care and more. While this can be accomplished with an ad hoc approach, a well thought out strategy, a clean data model and a willingness to plan can mean the difference between having two systems that share updates and a platform or network that can be extended and built upon in the future.
Fundamentally, it’s important to always stay focused on the end result. As a healthcare provider, the ultimate goal should be to improve the organization’s overall efficiency. Therefore, be aware of and prepared for the economics of integration. Ultimately, planning ahead and taking into account measures that enable you to continuously integrate new and changing systems when required is the only way to achieve a cost-effective and truly integrated healthcare infrastructure.
2. Your technology is more than a decade old
Something that is working today is rarely upgraded. That’s just the nature of IT – particularly healthcare IT – and it’s completely understandable.
Frankly, if something is working, there is rarely any incentive to replace it. Who wants that kind of a headache?
However, in the case of integration technology – like your integration engine – sometimes it does pay to stay ahead of the curve.
In many hospitals worldwide, older organizations are running integration engines that were built over a decade ago. These engines were built when bandwidth and CPU power were a fraction of what is now available. When they were designed, organizations couldn’t imagine the current integration landscape. In today’s rapidly changing IT environment, data is stored in the cloud and new applications have public APIs and exchange JSON or XML. It’s not only the hardcore infrastructure applications that are being integrated, but everything down to handheld devices and smartphones.
I’m not advocating that you dump everything that is working today. Consider your options and when it’s time to add on or improve your setup. Keep in mind that the dusty old box you were going to write a tweak for was built for the challenges of the 1990s, not the opportunities of the next decade.
3. You’re ignoring the cloud
“Cloud computing” can be a polarizing topic in the healthcare IT world. Along with the promise of new applications, cost savings and integrated resources come the inevitable – and understandable – fears and concerns for patient data safety.
Whether you call it ‘the cloud’, SaaS, ASP or some other catchy acronym, the fact of the matter is that data is being centralized. Many organizations are seizing the opportunity to unburden themselves from hardware management. Hosted and centralized applications bring functionality and economical solutions to problems that seemed unsolvable a few years ago.
If you’re ignoring the cloud, particularly in terms of your integration strategy, then you’re overlooking one of the biggest shifts happening throughout the industry.
In recent years, small teams of software developers have created entirely new industries and revolutionized the way we shop, share and interact with the outside world. These same teams are now focusing their attention on healthcare IT and one thing is certain: they build in and for the cloud. If you’re ready for it, you’ll be able to extend and enhance your existing infrastructure and be part of a coming revolution in patient care applications and analytics. If you’re ignoring the cloud, however, you risk being just another forgotten relic.
4. You treat the HL7 standard as, well, a standard
HL7 standards are a set of loosely defined standards. Unlike some standards that enforce strict guidelines, HL7 standards were designed to find a quick solution to healthcare integration woes. As a result, there are many different versions and aspects of HL7 floating around and interfacing between disparate systems can be extremely difficult.
Additionally, various parts of the standard are ambiguous at best and include a significant amount of optionality. This leads to different vendors making their own interpretations. As a result, one of the main challenges of integration is simply being nimble enough to adapt to these various interpretations. Integration is a real-world problem, not a theoretical one. Many of the core systems at hospitals were built more than a decade ago. Therefore, it is important to be flexible and be able to work with existing data and interfaces, rather than build specific interfaces that can only work with the standard.
5. You’re overlooking the opportunity cost-
Investing significant resources into developing custom interfaces may not make sense when “off-the-shelf” software is readily available. Instead, organizations should investigate whether those resources can be better used for projects that bring a competitive advantage to your business. Unless your business is creating an advantage that isn’t available elsewhere, it may ultimately be cheaper to buy existing software than to build from the ground up. Instead, focus on getting the scaffolding right.
In summary, healthcare organizations looking to inoculate themselves from integration failure should follow a few common-sense, tried and true rules: develop a clear strategy up front, keep current with technology, leverage the cloud, be flexible about standards and always look at the opportunity costs inherent in custom development.
Eliot Muir is CEO of iNTERFACEWARE, a software company that recently unveiled the latest version of Iguana, a modern integration engine that addresses healthcare integration woes.