HL7's radical changes

By Healthcare IT News
12:00 AM

The evolution in messaging standards from Health Level Seven will cause no small degree of angst for healthcare organizations and the vendors that serve them.

Its third version of standard messaging software is based on extensible markup language, making it far different than previous versions of its standards.

While the new version eventually will enable systems to do a better job of exchanging clinical information, future systems based on the new version will require additional effort and expense for providers and vendors.

While providers may not be in hurry to implement applications that use version 3.0 of HL7's messaging standard, recent federal government efforts to enable healthcare data ex-change may push up that timetable. In its wide-ranging healthcare IT announcements in May, the federal government announced it was adopting five of the new version's standards for its Consolidated Healthcare Information initiative.

There are 15 pieces to HL7's version 3, and three or four face final ballots, said John Quinn, a principal with Capgemini and chairman of HL7's technical steering panel. The rest have been approved and the messaging standard is essentially an accredited standard.

Because it's based on extensible markup language, the new version is substantially different from the previous standard, because it also describes the data that's going to be used and how it's going to be used, Quinn said.Previous versions of the messaging language have acted more like style guides than true standards; they enabled organizations to send data back and forth, but could not ensure that their systems could "understand" them. Because of that, the data could not be easily exchanged for computing purposes.

The new version of HL7 enables all exchanged data to be understood because it also defines reference information, said Tom Jones, chief medical officer for Oracle Corp. It's that capability that will cause problems, because it will force providers to eventually adopt systems that use standard terminology.

Jones fears that healthcare organizations won't realize the work involved in adopting not only the messaging standard but also the related reference information model. The new version will require vendors to redesign their applications or force providers to use interface engine technology to achieve compliance.

Quinn says the industry has time to make the adjustments.

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