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OK, XML Schema Does Earn its Keep in HL7

by Wes Rishel  |  December 31, 2011  |  2 Comments

In Does XML Schema Earn its Keep? I argued that XML schema was of little use in validating HL7 messages and document, and an obstacle to adopting other, more concise syntaxes.  In his comments on my post and subsequent emails Graham Grieve made an excellent case for looking at the business of producing messages and driving tooling. I have to agree with him that for the current state of RIM-based standards XML schema is a necessary ingredient.

There was a time — and apparently it still is the time — when XML is the way to roll with the industry in terms of adaptability to existing tooling.

I was partly projecting onto XML itself my disaffection for the HL7 style of using XML.

However, as Graham has pointed out in The XML consensus is breaking down XML has not worked out to be the panacea we all hoped, wedding the data, text and object-oriented worlds. In the early years it offered one promise and delivered — it was a syntax that IBM, Oracle and Microsoft would agree on. That has been a great step forward.

Like most steps forward, once we have achieved it we begin to say “what have you done for me lately?” It appears to me that we are in a state across the IT industry where XML is becoming the “old technology” and people are waiting for a new trend that fixes some of the problems.

What will the new panacea be? I would like to believe that the work being done in JSON now, like the early work in XML circa the year 2000, will be at the heart of whatever develops.

But as Graham suggests what is needed is more than a simpler syntax.

For now I guess we’ll plod along with XML and XML schema and keep an eye on the nascent use new technologies.

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Category: healthcare-providers  interoperability  vertical-industries  

Tags: health-information-exchange  health-internet  hie  hl7  json  xml-schema  

Wes Rishel
VP Distinguished Analyst
12 years at Gartner
45 years IT industry

Wes Rishel is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner's healthcare provider research practice. He covers electronic medical records, interoperability, health information exchanges and the underlying technologies of healthcare IT, including application integration and standards. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on OK, XML Schema Does Earn its Keep in HL7

  1. David De Groot says:

    So, care to elaborate on this statement: “the business of producing messages and driving tooling”?

    Are you saying that because ebXML is XML based, then XML is the right language? Or are you saying that because there are existing tools for HL7 and ebXML, this makes the case for XML to be the language of choice?

    I thought that you were saying in your previous post that it might be time to look at something like JSON for the future, not for today. That being said, I agree with you that we work with what we have today and know that at some point we will want to look at a different approach.

  2. Thomas Beale says:

    There is no substitute for doing proper engineering, which means understanding the requirements properly and building proper formalisms and tools to deal with them. XML does not come close to dealing with what is needed in any industry; it is UN-like resolution that everyone agreed to in committees over the years, and took home and interpreted as they wanted locally.

    As with all (generally weak) interoperability formalisms, XML (especially XSD) should never be used ‘inside’ technology, only at the edges (does anyone think Oxygen or XMLspy are built on XSD? They aren’t).

    Yes, of course, your product has to talk XML, of course you have to swap XSDs with someone else. But if you base your internal technology on XML/XSD, you are dead. Just do a google for ‘inheritance in XML schema’ to get a feel for how many hundreds of developers are out there struggling against (not with) a ‘formalism’ that is objectively unable to perform the job they are trying to do.

    Keep it at the edges where it belongs, and do the real work with real formalisms and tools, and you will find happiness.

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