Graham Grieve, a major participant in HL7 standards writes HL7 needs a fresh look because V3 has failed.
I agree with much of what he says, in particular his distinction between clinical interop and semantic interop. I take it to mean that the level of rigor required for getting to working clinical interop is less than full semantic interop and more likely to be handled with feasible modifications to existing products.
[BTW, a big +1 to Graham for his blog name: Health Intersections. It really captures the nature of interoperability as interfaces at the intersection of different systems, businesses and medical and IT cultures. This is the POV that leads to the distinction between clinical interop and semantic interop.]
I also agree with some commenters that V3 Is Not a “Total Failure.” The RIM is a basic contribution to healthcare modeling that for the first time captured the role of “role” in relating administrative and clinical data. It’s use of “mood” to capture the alignment of and differences among clinical data throughout the workflow of healthcare was equally brilliant. It is a shame that the developers chose to describe that discovery in terms that played well in academic circles and added barriers to sharing the knowledge with the 95% of IT folks that do the real work. This same pursuit of the perfect abstraction extended into the data types, adding to general difficulty in getting acceptance of V3 artifacts.
V3 Messaging is close enough to having had zero impact as to not merit further discussion. Some RIM-based artifacts, however, such as the CCD and other documents in the CDA family have achieved centers of use and are at least at the level of “it’s better to use these than to start over.” (That may not sound like much but it is exactly the level of success that HL7 V2 enjoys.)
It’s interesting to explore why CDA has fared better than V3 messaging. Here are some factors to consider:
Fighting a Different War. V3 messaging was the classic case of the generals fighting the last war. CDA explored new territory and looked at interfaces in a manner that was well-understood by clinicians (signed documents). It thereby received support from a class of pragmatists who would not invest a lot of time in improving interfaces that were working “well enough.”
Detachment from the Communication Paradigm. CDA documents are all about content. They are not tied to how (or even whether) they get transported.
Less Top-Downedness. Because a great deal of CDA development was focused on specific use cases it was sometimes possible to hide the complexities of the RIM in stuff the clinicians and other business experts were willing to accept as “the XML gibberish.”
Implementation Guides. The nature of CDA permitted focus on fairly narrow use cases. This led to the development of implementation guides that allowed implementers to figure out what to plug in among the XML gibberish in order to communicate. Not ideal but able to make headway for those that are fighting a new war.
Less Bad SNOMED Juju. In the U.S., CAP was seen as interested in financially exploiting its the intellectual property in SNOMED and deeply suspected within parts of the AMIA community. In some other countries SNOMED was seen as a US-only product. HL7 was driven by folks on the side that was suspicious of, if not outright hostile to, SNOMED. As a result most of us in HL7 ignored the intricate nature of the relationship between codes and information structures on the theory that codes were a separate problem. Although SNOMED CT still has many issues, the formation and behavior of IHTSDO has led to the widespread view that it is better to work with IHTDSDO to improve SNOMED than to start again.
[I am honestly not clear on why the CDA group had less hostility to SNOMED. Perhaps it was because it formed later in the history of HL7 and brought in new blood; perhaps it was because it was more focused on specific use cases it had a more utilitarian view. It is also possible I am imagining that there was a difference. The important point is that a “fresh look” in HL7 has to purge HL7 of residual resentment of SNOMED and include cooperation with IHTSDO as a base part of its methodology.]
Applying the Lessons
I am not arguing that CDA was a raging success; I see growing adoption of implementation guides that include CDA documents but the pace of adoption since CDA R2 became a standard does not justify a view that CDA represents a perfect solution to the overall problems in the HL7 V3 series of standards. Nonetheless it is important that the fresh look be fighting the right war, detached from the communication paradigm, less top-down, have tool-based support for the rapid development of implementation guides and squarely aligned with IHTSDO.
What’s in a Word?
Several of the commenters on Graham’s post implied that declaring V3 a failure has negative political consequences. This can be true. Backing for national level programs in their countries may not transfer to the fresh look if they have to acknowledge that what they were backing failed. These are the realities we face working in a world where spending decisions are made by agencies with wide scope and little depth. However, the countervailing concern is that some more comfortable political formulation might leads diehards within HL7 to believe that all that is needed is to tweak version 3. Should that view prevail, the relevance of HL7 will substantially decline.
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