Some involved in the search for an Entity Level Provider Directory are advocating for an approach that relies on search engines like Google and Bing and a modest approach to standardizing data using microdata while others are arguing for a more structured and rigorous approach based on a highly federated use of LDAP.
The federal policy version of “who will bell the cat” is “who will fund the service.” The LDAP approach assumes that some larger number of LDAP service providers can make a business out of gathering, auditing and maintaining identity data or that the government dole for HIE will continue unabated. This approach assumes we can pay enough to drag this information out of practices even though we have heard testimony that docs are notoriously reluctant to provide one additional datum about themselves over and above what is necessary to be licensed and credentialed.
The other approach puts the onus on practices to create their own identity information, either directly or with help from their health information service provider, electronic health record vendor, affiliated ACO, or professional society. The payment for the rather nominal requirement to create a web page comes from the practice, although it is likely buried in fees they pay practice management of other IT services. Likely sources of the Web page support include for health information service providers (HISPs), EHR and HIE vendors that incorporate a consumer-facing portal into their products, medical professional organizations, and IPAs.
A microcosm of this “big system” vs “individual” approach can be found in our ongoing discussion on how to represent the practice areas on such Web sites. There are two lists available, the provider taxonomy constructed her HIPAA and a federated list maintained by specialty organizations and coordinated by the A.M.A. Both are designed to support the arcane distinctions necessary for billing or accreditation. We are not aware that either has a consumer-friendly semantic mapping.
To achieve semantic interoperability and consumer-friendliness we need two things.
- a “golden” taxonomy — one or the other, available free
- a free semantic mapping from golden terms to consumer-friendly terms — and free updating. “Government-paid” would counts as free.
However, I question whether semantic interoperability is a requirement here. If we follow a consumer search engine approach to ELPD, why not let the practices describe their specialties however they like, as they do now? We might define a data item that contains free text and is semantically described as “consumer-friendly declared practice area (free text, repeated items separated by commas).”
This advice will be better from some source than from others. The sources will compete in the marketplace in terms of overall effectiveness of practice Web pages including but not limited to proper identification of specialty areas. Some might even collaborate to establish and maintain a common list of consumer-friendly terms likely to be effective in consumer-entered searches. Other entrepreneurs might spider through web sites and build up more sophisticated and effective search products.
Some practices might inadvertently or slyly cheat by self-describing practice areas for which they are not licensed or competent. This is not desirable but there are many other methods of regulating the actual provision of care; we do not need to build that into the burden we pay to begin to use Direct more widely.
The whole point of keeping it simple is to get a useful dollop of work done, put it into action and see how economics and innovation shapes the next step.
If we keep it simple we could get this dollop done in a year. If we entangle it in state-by-state programs to mount (and inter-federate) LDAP servers who knows how long it might take, and whether the services will be economically sustainable?