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Interoperability Is Like Porn: Most Can't Define It, But You'd Know If You Saw It

Another HIMSS event is in the books and I'm finally settled back into Seattle with a lost voice, a few blisters, and enough tchotchkes to open up a small dollar store.

As with all tradeshows, you expect to see a few common buzzwords make their way into a majority of the vendor booths. This year was no different.

To name a few: Interoperability, Data & Analytics, Population Health, Security,Patient Engagement, Digital Health.

The one that stood out like a child in a bar at midnight was "interoperability." You couldn't throw a stress ball in any direction without hitting the word 7 times! It was in every booth, and in most cases, it just didn't belong.

Similar to "big data," people don't clearly know how to define interoperability. BIDMC CIO John Halamka said it best in his session with Jonathan Bush: "Interoperability is a bit like porn. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

What Is Interoperability?

Let me take a second and offer you the definition as seen on Wikipedia:

A property of a product or system, whose interfaces are completely understood, to work with other products or systems, present or future, without any restricted access or implementation.

So, in a nutshell, interoperable systems and devices should, by definition, be able to exchange data between one another and interpret that shared data.

You would assume then, based on this definition, that everyone claiming to be interoperable was able to deliver the means to exchange and share data between each other, even their competitors. Yes...I said it, competitors. Take a minute to let that soak in, because as we move to a truly value based healthcare system there's no room for walls between "interoperable" systems.

The more vendors I met, the clearer it became that this was not their goal. Instead, they provided a tool that was capable of extracting data from other systems and then storing it in their own proprietary data store. When I asked, "So, you share your data with others"? A look of bewilderment was brought upon their face. A typical response was: "Why would we need to do that? With us you'll have all the data you need in one place."

Isn't that the same logic the vendor whose data they were extracting had?

My mentality, and ExtraHop's, is that the data that lives in your environment is yours. Why should you have to pay a ransom fee just to use it? You shouldn't. And systems that make you do so aren't, by definition, interoperable.

Why Pay A Ransom For Your Own Data?

Speaking of ransom fees, let me transition into another one of the observed buzzwords: Security.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise, I spoke to about a dozen people who had been infected within the last week. Most of them had their own creative way for preventing widespread data loss. Because ransomware typically encrypts alphabetically, the most common technique was to pad the file system with an oversized file at the top of the alphabet, one you don't mind losing. As encryption begins it takes a while to spin through that file. While this may buy you a bit of time you're forced into upgrading storage space to house these unnecessary files and there's no guarantee you'll notice the ransomware before it finishes up and moves onto other files.

Check out the Extrahop blog post Change or Die: Why your firewall and log analysis cannot identify and stop ransomware to learn how ExtraHop helps defeat ransomware with proactive security monitoring.

Paying to access your own data... no one wants to do that and no one should have to. ExtraHop takes an unprecedented open and extensible approach allowing you to truly set your data free.

You, the consumers, the power users and connoisseurs of IT, can influence the future of interoperability and security through your purchasing decisions today. Dont settle for a buzzword, press the vendors you meet on their definition and if it doesn't meet your needs, look elsewhere.

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Everyone claiming to be interoperable should deliver the means to exchange and share data between each other. As we move to a truly value-based healthcare system there's no room for walls between "interoperable" systems

Terry Shaver
Technical Marketing Engineer - Healthcare, ExtraHop Networks

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