Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Standards and Interoperability

It has been an interesting week of rhetoric and emotional outbursts for and against healthcare reform. In amongst the many articles I found this post from David Kibbe on the Healthcare Blog: Why Standards Matter - the True Meaning of Interoperability; a word that he believes that the American people are skeptical of.

You only have to take a quick visit to one of the personal health record systems Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault) to understand why when he says:
interoperability is a hugely important word in the context of today's ongoing debate about the use of EHR technology by physicians, hospitals, and patients too
It is not just an important work, it is an essential component of any future innovation in healthcare. At a recent meeting of the HIT committee several of the members acknowledged that
didn't really know" what interoperability means
Yikes! Frightening if the advisers don;'t have a good handle on what this should mean. He is right that there is complexity in a precise meaning of interoperability since there are many levels and the post contains some good descriptions on the various levels and elements of interoperability - for instance data, words, formats, layout etc. But as he rightly points out capturing medical information in PDF format does not make it truly interoperable and in the example h cites of loading his living will into Google Health this is simply an online version of the Amazon Kindle. Interesting and may be useful to have but not really interoperable.For it to be interoperable the information contained in the files should be in a standard format and the example here is XML (the underlying basis of web pages that you are reading this blog on). XML is an open standard and has a lot of flexibility (as we have seen with the advent of even more creative web pages and Web 2.0 type applications)

The essence here is the need for standards that are the industry and users of the information need to agree on the standard. We need to move past the VHS/BetaMax or BluRay/HDDVD debate and to a set of standards that everyone can use.

At this point standards have not been agreed and there are still some competing standards but XML does seem to be an underlying technology format of choice and is in use Healthstory. Based on Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) that uses XML this format allows for the capture of free form narrative linked to encoded content such that the Diabetes in the note can be identified by a computer systems as ICD9 Code of 255.0 - Diabetes Mellitus). Already some systems will import medical information encoded using XML type standards and this is likely to increase. As you think about your health record you should be looking for providers and technology that will export your information in a meaningful format that can be reused in other systems and applications. Start looking for your records in interoperable format - and insist on the full story not just extracts or sub sets of the data.

No comments: