On Wednesday the California Healthcare Foundation published Request for Proposals: Using Electronic Data Standards to Communicate Laboratory Orders.
CHCF actually lives up to an important but seldom-followed precept of standards: producing a spec is only the start of getting a working standard. Someone has to nurse it through initial implementations, reflect on the lessons learned and amend the standards accordingly. Connectathon-like testing is moderately useful, but doesn’t get to many real-world issues that come up in deployment.
Ambulatory lab orders have a high potential ROI but are especially tricky. The basic informatics issues are straight-forward but the issues of patient identity, getting orders from a different place than the specimen is collected and dealing with unsynchronized order catalogs are baffling. ELINCS put together a consensus group that included reference labs, integrated delivery networks and vendors. They hashed out the workflows and developed an implementation guide based on HL7 v2. CHCF is now offering $300K in funding assistance to be spread among six or eight sites to test the draft spec. The learning from this effort will go back to a finalized ELINCS ordering spec.
Hopefully, HL7 and the S&I Framework will adopt the final implementation guide virtually as-is since by then there may be dozens of interfaces operating using the spec. It is always hard for a consensus group to accept the consensus of another group, as was demonstrated by the barriers HL7 put up to adopting the ELINCS results specs. Unless a standards organization sets the specific goal of facilitating the use of third-party work the US will never follow what is supposed to be a fundamental principle guiding ONC work: Standards are not created they are adopted.
In the mean time I recommend the CHCF specs to IDNs, EHR vendors and HIEs that are ready now to grapple with lab orders. It won’t be be perfect now, but it is better a better start than a blank sheet of paper. To the credit of CHCF, it stood up to the rough handling it had at the hands of HL7 and came away with a defined path to ease the current orders work. Thanks to that effort HL7 is now talking the talk; CHCF orders will give HL7 be a chance to walk to walk of valuing tested standards and working with outside consensus groups.
(Updated 12/8 to correct link.)
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