Interoperability Challenges in Oncology: A Roadmap for Health and IT Integration

  • Published: April 23, 2024



Crucial role of interoperability in oncology

In the complex realm of healthcare, interoperability emerges as a beacon of promise, offering the seamless transmission of vital patient data across diverse healthcare systems and platforms. Nowhere is its significance more pronounced than in oncology, where every moment is precious, and interoperability stands as the linchpin to elevating patient care and driving better outcomes. This importance arises from the inherent complexity of cancer treatment, where informed decisions hinge on the availability of accurate and up-to-date patient data. From diagnosis to treatment planning and ongoing care management, interoperability ensures that healthcare providers have access to comprehensive patient information at the point of care. This facilitates timely interventions, personalized treatment strategies, and enhanced care coordination, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes and quality of life.

The Minimal Common Oncology Data Elements (mCODE) initiative is a groundbreaking effort aimed at standardizing essential data elements in oncology. By establishing a common framework for capturing and exchanging cancer-related data, mCODE facilitates interoperability among healthcare systems and promotes seamless data integration across the cancer care continuum. This standardized approach not only enhances the efficiency of data sharing and analysis but also accelerates cancer research and enables evidence-based decision-making in clinical practice. As a result, mCODE plays a pivotal role in advancing precision oncology and improving patient outcomes through data-driven care strategies.


Current challenges in interoperability

As of 2021, 62% of American hospitals were functioning in all four domains of interoperability, namely the ability of health systems to electronically send, receive, find, and integrate health information with systems outside their organization. However, they are facing numerous obstacles that significantly hinder the smooth flow of patient data and inhibit collaborative endeavors in cancer care. These impediments manifest across various dimensions, going beyond technical complexities to include complex organizational dynamics, intricate regulatory frameworks, and nuanced cultural factors deeply embedded in the healthcare ecosystem. Let’s take a look at some of these challenges and how they manifest –


  • Fragmented data sources and incompatible formats: In a typical oncology setting, patient data is generated from various sources including electronic health records (EHRs), imaging systems, pathology reports, and genetic testing platforms. However, these systems often operate in silos, each using proprietary data formats and schemas that are incompatible with others. For instance, a radiology report generated in one system may not be easily integrated into the patient’s comprehensive EHR, leading to fragmented and disjointed care.
  • Lack of standardized data exchange protocols: Despite efforts to establish data exchange standards like Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), the lack of universal adoption and adherence poses significant challenges. Healthcare organizations may interpret and implement such standards differently, resulting in interoperability gaps. Additionally, legacy systems that predate these standards may struggle to retrofit or integrate with newer systems, exacerbating the problem.
  • Privacy and security concerns: The sensitive nature of patient health information, especially in oncology where diagnoses and treatment plans are highly personal, underscores the importance of robust privacy and security measures. Healthcare providers and organizations are rightfully cautious about sharing patient data across systems due to concerns about data breaches, unauthorized access, and regulatory non-compliance. This cautious approach, while essential for patient confidentiality, can inadvertently hinder data sharing and interoperability efforts.
  • Resistance to change from healthcare providers and organizations: Implementing interoperable health IT solutions often requires significant investments in time, resources, and training. Healthcare providers, already burdened with busy schedules and administrative tasks, may be resistant to adopting new technologies or workflows that disrupt their established routines. Moreover, organizational inertia and cultural resistance to change can further impede interoperability initiatives, as stakeholders may be reluctant to depart from familiar practices or systems.


Studies have shown that these challenges have tangible repercussions on patient care and healthcare efficiency. As of the end of 2021, around half of the hospitals in the U.S. reported that effectively managing the overwhelming volume of patient data would be the biggest hurdle to improving interoperability in healthcare and delivering an upgraded connected care experience.


Paving the way for seamless interoperability

In the face of such complex challenges, a comprehensive roadmap for health and IT integration is indispensable. This roadmap encompasses strategic initiatives aimed at overcoming technical, organizational, and regulatory barriers to achieve seamless data exchange and collaboration across healthcare ecosystems.


  • Standardization: Supporting initiatives such as the mCODE and FHIR is pivotal in establishing standardized data exchange formats and protocols. By adhering to universally accepted standards, healthcare organizations can ensure interoperability across diverse systems and facilitate the seamless flow of patient information. Standardization not only enhances data consistency and accuracy but also streamlines interoperability efforts, laying a solid foundation for collaborative cancer care.
  • Investment: Encouraging healthcare providers to invest in interoperable health IT systems and platforms is paramount to realizing the full potential of interoperability in oncology. By leveraging cutting-edge technology and robust infrastructure, healthcare organizations can streamline data exchange processes, improve workflow efficiency, and enhance clinical decision-making. Investment in interoperable solutions not only yields tangible benefits in terms of cost savings and operational efficiency but also fosters innovation and drives continuous improvement in cancer care delivery.
  • Collaboration: Fostering partnerships between healthcare stakeholders, IT vendors, regulatory bodies, and policymakers is essential for developing and implementing interoperability solutions. Collaborative efforts enable the co-creation of interoperable frameworks, policies, and standards that address the unique needs and challenges of oncology care. By aligning incentives and sharing best practices, stakeholders can collectively drive interoperability initiatives forward, accelerating the adoption of interoperable health IT solutions and promoting a culture of data sharing and collaboration.


Health systems that have embraced interoperability have witnessed tangible improvements in care coordination, reduced redundant tests, and enhanced patient satisfaction. By following this comprehensive roadmap for health and IT integration, stakeholders can navigate the complexities of interoperability in oncology, ultimately improving patient outcomes and advancing the quality of cancer care delivery. Reveal’s partnership with CancerX to contribute to the CancerX Accelerator Program is one such example of health and IT integration. It aims to promote and fortify digital innovations in oncology by providing promising startups with an opportunity to directly work with leading cancer organizations, including providers, payers, and pharmaceutical companies.


Future directions and opportunities

Looking ahead, the future of interoperability in oncology holds immense promise:


  • Advancements in AI/ML: Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning for data integration and analysis can revolutionize cancer care, enabling personalized treatment strategies and predictive analytics.
  • Integration of genomic data: Incorporating genomic data into interoperable health IT systems can provide invaluable insights into cancer genetics and treatment response, paving the way for precision medicine.
  • Patient-centered approaches: Empowering patients to access and control their health data promotes transparency and patient engagement, ultimately leading to better health outcomes.


The journey towards interoperability in oncology is fraught with challenges, but the rewards are invaluable. As key stakeholders, healthcare organizations must prioritize interoperability initiatives, for only through collaboration and commitment can we truly transform cancer care for the better.


About us

Reveal HealthTech is dedicated to transforming cancer care through innovative health information technology. Our interoperable solutions streamline workflows and enhance care coordination, ultimately improving patient outcomes. Partner with us as we transform the landscape of cancer care delivery.