The Concept of Interoperability for AAL Systems

The Concept of Interoperability for AAL Systems

Lamprini T. Kolovou (University of Patras, Greece) and Dimitrios K. Lymberopoulos (University of Patras, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2770-3.ch068


e-Health considers the healthcare environment as an electronic workspace where different Medical Information Systems (MIS) supports the automation of information processing, the exchange of medical and administrative data and the automation of medical workflow. AAL systems are MISs of special purposes that use wireless technology to provide healthcare to citizens. By their nature AAL systems are totally distributed, they include various medical and other users’ devices and the mobility of people increases their complexity and creates advanced requirements for the communication of data. Effectiveness and functionality of AAL premise interoperability at all levels of communication. In this chapter the definitions of interoperability are examined and how these are specialized for the healthcare area as well. In addition, the applied technologies and some significant issues that regard interoperability are analyzed.
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2 Defining Interoperability

2.1 The General Definition

At the very top of an ‘interoperability scale’ are three levels, each one subdivided: functional, syntactic, and semantic. Full sharing of information requires that the two top levels of interoperability are reached: functional and syntactic interoperability: the ability of two or more systems to exchange information (so that it is human readable by the receiver); semantic interoperability: the ability for information shared by systems to be understood at the level of formally defined domain concepts (so that the information is computer processable by the receiving system).

To make interoperability clearly described, the terms of interfacing and integration have to be defined. The distinction between interfacing, integration and interoperability is extremely important.

  • Interface: a boundary at which interaction occurs between two systems, processes, etc. An interface defines how to access an object.

  • Integration: combination of diverse application entities into a relationship which functions as a whole

  • Interoperability: a state which exists between two application entities when, with regard to a specific task, one application entity can accept data from the other and perform that task in an appropriate and satisfactory manner without the need for extra operator intervention.

This definition of interoperability, in its mention of a specific task, usefully distinguishes interoperability from integration. It also brings precision and operational meaningfulness to the IEEE and ISO definition of interoperability namely

“the ability of two or more systems to exchange data, and to mutually use the information that has been exchanged”

2.2 Interoperability in E-Health

The most known definitions of interoperability for healthcare systems are of three international organizations, CEN, IEE and HIMSS. These examine interoperability from different perspectives:

  • HIMSS describe the dimensions that comprise a more expansive notion of interoperability

  • CEN defines a broad array of user-driven interoperability functional profiles

  • IEEE analyses the modules of an interoperability’ s functional model

Studying these definitions, a common area of interoperability in e-Health is defined as presented in Table 1.

Table 1.
The levels of interoperability in healthcare
Uniform movement of healthcare dataData communicationInformation profiles
Uniform presentation of dataInformation model
Uniform user controlsSystem administration and confidentialityIT infrastructure profiles
Uniform safeguarding data security and integrityApplications, services and agents model
Uniform protection of patient confidentialityUniform user’s environmentWorkflow profiles
Uniform assurance of a common degree of system service qualityUser application interface
Applications’’ data management

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