The Interoperability Toolkit (ITK)
For many years the notion of system interoperability within the NHS has been a difficult target to hit. A number of groups have tried to address the problem over the years with varying levels of success.
In certain domains, there is a good level of similarity in business process, data requirements and technical alignment. In other areas there are competing and, in some cases, incompatible solutions.
The NHS abhors a vacuum and where no central policies exist local solutions proliferate. Local solutions have a common trait, which is that they are by definition bounded by the requirements of the local community and tend not to take into account work already available in other localities. Even worse, some systems are locked into proprietary interfaces which are costly and time consuming to maintain.
The ITK is an attempt to try and fill the vacuum by providing a number of specifications and technologies which are consistent and applicable across a wide range of domains and localities.
The Interoperability Toolkit (ITK) is a set of common specifications, frameworks and implementation guides to support interoperability within local organisations and across local health and social care communities. The ITK is not a piece of software; it is not a product which is downloadable from this website.
Over the years, the NHS has experienced a market where individual application vendors have developed bespoke interfaces or variations of standard interfaces. The NHS is faced with a situation where attempting to integrate applications is overly complex and increasingly expensive.
The ITK is targeted at reducing this complexity and therefore expenditure by introducing a unified specification for system interoperability within the English NHS.
By publishing a series of common specifications and then by policing the deployment of those specifications through the ITK accreditation scheme, the ITK will bring a level of standardisation to the market.
From the outset ITK has been focussed on the business needs of the front-line NHS. The specifications have been developed as a result of consultation with local NHS ICT Directors and engagement with representatives of the clinical community. Only projects which are of direct and measurable benefit to the NHS front line are considered for inclusion in the ITK.
- Reductions in the NHS expenditure on 'local' system integration projects that are often bespoke ad-hoc integrations by standardising technology and interoperability specifications.
- Reduction in overlap or expenditure from vendors for similar integration across NHS organisations by adopting common standards across the NHS.
- Reduction in time to delivery by reducing the complexities of integration.
- Allows opening up the market to new entrants, niche suppliers and local teams by lowering the entry barrier for new entrants by defining the standard to develop against upfront.
- Allows benefits realised from interoperability to be replicated and scaled up
Some key facts
- ITK uses open international standards and is aligned with HL7 and 'Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise' (IHE)
- ITK Accreditation means that the system supplier has proven that a product has been developed to and tested against the ITK specifications.