Recent technological advances mean that departments and companies throughout the healthcare sector are shifting towards technological solutions and away from paper. However, this has a range of drawbacks, with the development of a labyrinthine network of systems and data slowing processes down. Read on to find out more about the many challenges of interoperability and solutions that minimise the issue, cutting through processes and speeding organisations up.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability is the process of each part of a healthcare system working well in tandem with one another. Consider the three different stages of the healthcare procurement process, the staff collecting and processing data, your billing and payment system in the middle, and finally the Electronic Health Record storage systems as the final part of the process.

In an ideal situation, interoperability means that each of these processes functions as effectively as feasibly possible. The aspects work closely in tandem with one another, seamlessly transferring full datasets from one location to another. This occurs due to identical data formats, identical software implementation across organisations and using the same semantics throughout.

However, interoperability has challenges when just one of these factors is incorrect.

What are the challenges of interoperability in healthcare?

There are several issues with the implementation of interoperability in healthcare. Some of the key challenges are listed below, in addition to their causes:

Excessive data volumes

One of the main issues with interoperability in the healthcare supply chain is the volume of data in question. For example, in the event that a clinic orders a significant amount of medications in varying quantities, the significant data requirements place a strain on the receiving system. This leads to process disruption, slowing ongoing processes down. It has been recorded that the use of data in the healthcare sector could deliver £14bn of further revenue, demonstrating the sheer scale of data challenges.

Incompatibilities of standards

Another significant issue with interoperability is the case in which multiple different standards apply across different systems, platforms and departments. For example, your standard procedures vary from those of the next hospital, which vary wildly to that of the supplier. Some hospitals use OpenID Connect where others implement OAuth 2.0, a seemingly small incompatibility but one which slows the system. Balancing these data privacy issues means a delay in conveying data from one location to the next, causing inefficiencies.

Differing training

Many companies train staff in the core protocols and procedures for their operation. Whilst this means a specialisation in the specific company’s needs, transitioning to work with different companies on different systems is a challenge requiring an increased transition time. This lack of specific training for every individual system means that staff members spend time adapting to new struggles and initially struggle to respond to requests from newer systems. Where 74% of workers are willing to re-train to remain employable, there remains some friction in non-interoperable systems from training inconsistencies.

The benefits of organised systems

These issues mean that companies see significant benefits in using end-to-end systems. After all, the NHS has a mandate to “ensure overall financial balance in the NHS”, a goal that is mostly achieved. However, cohesive systems are a stepping stone to reaching these targets more quickly and effectively. Although the NHS acknowledges interoperability systems, there is still a distance to go.

A healthcare system making full use of an S2P system, such as ELCOM’s EVOLVE S2P system, provides a single solution covering sourcing, contracts, payment and inventory control. Rather than relying on several systems each dealing with an individual task, a comprehensive Purchase to pay system is:

  • Simpler: Departments require less training for staff members as there is only one system.
  • Compatible: The software uses identical standards and requirements in every stage of the process.
  • Integrated: Each step is designed to work with the next, handling significant data quantities with relative ease.

Having one single presence in the process eliminates redundancies in the system and saves money at every stage of procurement.

Why a unified system offers a significant advantage?

There are several reasons a unified and holistic platform holds an advantage over the disorganised alternative. Some of the key reasons are as follows:

  • Further visibility into enterprise spending and procurement, with a greater level of control over organisational processes.
  • Holistic systems continually improve their technology, any easy process as the entire system upgrades simultaneously.
  • Upgrades bring benefits such as greater usability, cost optimisation and greater artificial intelligence.

Find out more about minimising interoperability challenges

If you’re interested in finding out more about resolving interoperability challenges with targeted solutions, visit ELCOM’s website today for a range of resources and solutions. ELCOM’s EVOLVE Source-to-pay is a unified and holistic platform supporting data standardisation and interoperability due to GS1 code, with all solutions GS1 accredited. This means ELCOM provides a thorough understanding of data standardisation and interoperability solutions.


  • Carolina Duran

    Carolina Duran, VP of Marketing at ELCOM, joined ELCOM in May 2016 to lead the company's marketing team and implement a robust and efficient strategy to secure brand positioning and growth in the UK and internationally. ELCOM is a global Supply Chain Technology Provider which praised itself for making procurement smarter, more connected, and transparent.

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