Mind to Market

Thursday, May 27, 2010


For the past year, I have been working on projects that have been conducted under the umbrella of the HL7 (Health Level 7) International organization. HL7 is an international standards development organization that focuses on the exchange of health information from one system to another. The US healthcare industry is currently undergoing a rapid transformation from paper to electronic records that has been encouraged, in part, by the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act of 2009. A key component of this Act is the ability to exchange health information from one hospital to another; the area in which HL7 is positioned.

HL7 is what you would call a multi-stakeholder organization; members include representatives from 55 countries in government health organizations, healthcare providers, payers, software vendors and ancillary organizations that volunteer their time. Much of the work that is done in HL7 is accomplished through committees; committees that are composed of healthcare subject matter experts and information scientists.

HL7’s vision is to create the best and most widely used standards in healthcare. Standards in this case refer to specific ways of representing healthcare information that different healthcare providers can agree to. For example, when your doctor places an electronic order for a lab test, if this order is expressed in a form specified by HL7 any laboratory can read it if they use the HL7 format. In fact the HL7 version 2.X messaging standard is the most widely implemented standard for healthcare in the world, it is in continuous use exchanging electronic healthcare data between hospitals and labs, hospitals and hospitals and numerous other healthcare organizations.

In order to develop and manage these standards, HL7 provides an organizational infrastructure as well as extensive technological frameworks in which the standards can be developed and expressed. The Reference Information Model (RIM) introduced Model Driven Architecture (MDA) to the HL7 development process. HL7 has recently introduced the Services Aware Interoperability Framework (SAIF) in order to provide consistency across all HL7 artifacts and enable a standardized approach to Enterprise Architecture development and implementation.

As with any consensus driven organization, HL7 is not without its share of challenges. The development of international, interoperable standards is a slow, laborious process even when compared with the development of national systems and certainly in comparison to systems developed by private industry. Nevertheless, the development of such standards will bring with them benefits in efficiency and safety both to the consumer and the healthcare industry in general.

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