News

Report makes recommendations for health data interoperability in Alberta

The Alberta Virtual Care Coordinating Body (AVCCB) has published its ‘Interoperability Saves Lives’ report, identifying several factors hampering provincial progress in health data interoperability and making recommendations on legislation, design, assurance, and oversight.

The report was conducted by a working group who performed a cost/benefit analysis of health data interoperability using a number of domains of quality care and indices of harm. They then conducted a high-level current state analysis of health data interoperability in Alberta, and identified a number of barriers to achieving interoperability in Alberta “to assist with framing of future recommendations”.

Highlighting that “the capacity to provide virtual care” is often dependent on health data interoperability”, the report raises several findings relating to the benefits of interoperability. These included improvements to safety, efficiency and effectiveness; long-term health sector cost savings; and the provision of timely access to health services.

On the other hand, the report also notes the harms resulting from a lack of health data interoperability, such as the breach of legal and ethical rights to personal health data; a failure to benefit from the use of health data for public good; and the failure to optimise health system function and efficiency.

Calling comprehensive health data interoperability in Alberta and Canada as a whole “elusive”; the report goes on to discuss the lack of interoperability of health data across community-based health services and members of a patient’s distributed care team. It also makes comparisons with Ontario, which has a regulatory framework for interoperability in place; as well as countries such as Denmark, which it states “initiated a comprehensive public policy approach to health data interoperability 29 years ago and today enjoys a high level of health data integration”.

The analysis denotes “significant deficits in both human and technical factor interoperability”, including fragmented health data accountability and oversight, “antiquated” or “absent” health data and interoperability legislation, and a “lack of health sector literacy about the foundational importance of interoperability”.

In particular, conclusions from the report’s analysis indicate that interoperability will “elevate the safety of patients and health professionals”, that interoperability of health data should be mandated and regulated, and that the most challenging barriers are human factors, not technical.

Based on these conclusions, the report makes a total of 18 recommendations. Many of these recommendations address the need for health data interoperability in Alberta to be mandated, regulated and transparent; some of these recommendations note the need to ensure the design of health data interoperability maximises the delivery of quality health services; and some relate to the need for provincial efforts to align with national efforts, including those to promote health data exchange standards.

The report closes to note: “In this effort, Alberta health sector stakeholders should harness the substantive health data interoperability human and knowledge resources both Alberta and Canada have to offer. Provincial, interjurisdictional, and pan-Canadian partnerships are not only encouraged because of accountability to the Canada Health Act and the principles of portability and universality, but because achieving comprehensive health data interoperability by its very nature will be easier to realise if we all choose to interoperate rather than build barriers to cooperation. This should not be a difficult choice; either we interoperate in support of our collective accountability to the delivery of quality health programs and services, or we perpetuate data-related harm arising from the fragmentation of health data around our own services and jurisdictions. The choice for our province seems clear; let us lead by working cooperatively to build comprehensive health data interoperability that will benefit all Albertans, the health workforce, and serve as a model for partners across Canada.”

The full report can be accessed here.

Reference: Affleck, E., Murphy, T., Williamson, T., Price, R., Wolfaardt, U., Price, T., Layton, A., Hamilton, B., Dean, S., Frazer, C., Chapman, A., Shute, R., West., Denman, M., Golonka, R., & Lindeman, C. (2023). Interoperability Saves Lives. (www.albertavirtualcare.org).

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