Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MatchstickTV and FirefoxOS

Earlier this year, I spent some time developing for FirefoxOS, a Mobile OS based on a linux kernel and Mozilla browser. To be honest, I have a Revolution phone from Geeksphone which flashes between Android and FirefoxOS, and it has been Android since day one. It work well for what it needs to do as an Android device. However, the idea of an instant developer community for FirefoxOS is compelling - it just hasn't appeared yet because the OS hasn't become a large enough target yet. And, like ChromeOS before it, this may never happen.

MatchstickTV is a recent kickstarter project that takes FirefoxOS and uses it to run an HDMI dongle very similar to Chromecast, but based on open source apps on an open source development platform and an open source OS. It's a little cheaper as well, but I suspect that is not an important selling feature. On the other hand... because there is nothing in particular to license here, this sort of thing could become a great conference giveaway over time, just like USB sticks used to be.

Honestly, I think a tablet using FirefoxOS with a bunch of onboard educational applications - similar to the original OLPC program, perhaps - would be a really good thing. There is a niche for browser-based mobile, and Mozilla is doing a lot of smart, good things to capture it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Atomized Integration, IBM Worklight and AngularJS

Over the past year, I have worked fairly extensively with IBM Worklight, Big Blue's enterprise mobility package. In the coming year, I plan to find more things to do with Bluemix, IBM's cloud mashup line; for now, some thoughts.

In general, my guidance has been to use open source mobility frameworks, PhoneGap for cross-platform, Bootstrap for Responsive Web Design, Angular for templating, and some form of OAuth2 for security, at least until the vendor solutions from IBM, Oracle, et al reach a higher level of maturity, since these are stepping stones.

If you look at the latest Gartner quadrants for enterprise mobility and cloud for the previous year, you will see IBM maturing in the MADP space and Oracle maturing in the cloud space... but maturity in both areas is necessary for enterprise mobility to fire on all pistons.

Worklight does three things really well:
  1. Simple adaptation on the server-side, using Rhino-based Javascript adapters.
  2. Integrating with existing Websphere and SAM infrastructure.
  3. Increasing productivity through modularization and emulation.
Probably the biggest win here is 3. I started out 2014 working with Firefox OS, Saxon-CE and AngularJS, so I was already committed to using Javascript and XSL as much as possible, and Worklight Adapters played into this approach nicely; however, after *hating* the slowness of native Android development using the Android toolkit, what I appreciated most about Worklight was being able to use an emulator that ran as smoothly as the Firefox OS simulator (which is really just a browser plugin). On the server-side, we are becoming more accustomed to devOps tools like JRebel; on the client-side, we should have similar expectations - is, don't use the Android emulator if you can avoid it. It sucks.

I have mentioned previously how much I like Worklight's lightweight Rhino-based adapters. They are intentionally lightweight, eschewing any sort of SOA reusability. A Worklight adapter does one thing, and it does it well. This can be initially quite pleasant, then very frustrating, and then liberating, as you sort out how much integration you need to do in your client applications. My experience has been that a well designed piece of XSL can convert an XML data source into some standards-compliant JSON, and then a client-side library service can take it from there.

For instance, consider that I have an XML data source containing a number of patient records. Let's say it is NIEM compliant XML. I could build a client application that can consume NIEM compliant JSON, and then all I would need to do in Worklight is create a very simple boilerplate adapter that transforms the XML into JSON. This is assuming that my server-side data source doesn't already support JSON-flavoured NIEM, which would be even simpler. In other words, if my intent is to take a NIEM compliant data source and build a NIEM compliant mobile application, this is quite straightforward. Server-side Worklight adaptation transforms XML into JSON; client-side Angular data-binding injects JSON into the HTML-based presentation layer, and presto, you have an application.

Granted, the development process is not that easy, and let's consider now that we have a number of data sources, some of which are NIEM compliant, some of which are HL7 compliant, some of which are based on direct SQL access, and some of which are ad hoc.

When you look at the various Worklight adaptation examples, you might get the idea that RSS is treated preferentially, which is untrue; however, thinking of these adapters as syndication is still a useful approach.

Throughout the past year, I have been working with HL7 FHIR, a draft standard from HL7 that among other things introduces a JSON-based pattern for aggregation and composition that is essentially Atom syndication in JSON instead of XML. It turns out that if all of my Worklight adapters create Atom-compliant JSON on the server-side, then I can use a Javascript Atom library in the client, and it really doesn't matter what format my data sources are using. By the time they reach my client application, they are all Atom-based.

The client-side service that I have written - using Angular for modularization - is responsible for merging multiple Atom streams. Once I have a single Atom stream, data-binding takes place, so that information can be presented. In practice, this can be frustrating because Atom is intended for serialization of information, but an Atom bundle can also contain relative links between entries. This is fundamental to the way HL7 FHIR works, but not NIEM, so I have ended up creating synthetic and essentially schemaless resources as necessary. Ideally, all information could be mapped into Atom-syndicated FHIR resources. Maybe that's a good project for this year.

Adaptation frameworks always run into a problem based around the decision to go lightweight or go modular. I like that Worklight has gone lightweight, but I am frustrated that I can't reuse just a little bit more code between adapters. In particular, I would really like to use a single set of XSL transforms to support multiple adapters. Perhaps there is a way to do this, but for now, I am still forcing myself to prune my adaptation code as much as possible to keep it easy to maintain. If I find myself using the full set of DocBook or DITA transforms in an adapter, it's probably time to rethink my approach.

On the whole, I have enjoyed working with Worklight adapters immensely; I don't think this would be the case if I was not also using Angular or some other Javascript framework to support development of client-side services. I haven't particularly used the built-in Worklight support for Dojo or JQuery, but I'd go so far as to say that without some sort of hybrid framework support, you will lose much of the productivity that Worklight gives you. After a year, I have reached an understanding that I would not enjoy using a framework like Angular without a platform like Worklight, and I would not enjoy using a platform like Worklight without a framework like Angular.

Unless, of course, the platform was also a framework, which is what approaches like Meteor promise. 


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Some Canadian Context for HL7 FHIR

I work in Healthcare Messaging in Canada; specifically, I work in messaging in British Columbia, where we work primarily with Point of Service applications and Clinical Information Systems that generate and consume messages in the HL7 v2 pipe and caret notation, with a foundation of registries and repositories that use a version of HL7 v3 Messaging XML. More or less, this follows Canada Health Infoway's iEHR blueprint; however, following Infoway's original blueprint, we would have HL7 v3 at the Point of Service as well as the foundation.

HL7 v2 is still used extensively in other Canadian jurisdictions. Some use v2 almost exclusively. In Canada, we have a mix of v2, v3, with some CDA. The United States, on the other hand, never embraced v3, creating a desperate need for a better messaging layer. In this case, FHIR will accomplish things in the U.S. that v3 could not, and that leaves Canada in a challenging position - continuing on with further investment in HL7 v3 makes little sense. Like CDA before it, FHIR can be used to augment these projects; there are enough similarities between FHIR XML and v3 Messaging to make this plausible.

Ongoing CDA projects in Canada are bound to continue as such, which will be worth paying attention to as CDA projects in the States start shifting to HL7 FHIR as an implementation standard. The message from Infoway recently here is to use the appropriate standard for the work at hand, and I expect this message to percolate on both sides of the border; but what does this really imply? How do you decide? For new business cases which would previously have required a document standard like CDA, HL7 FHIR is going to be compelling, as well as low risk, local, and greenfield projects.

Worth noting is the four ways that FHIR can be used. As previously discussed, FHIR supports both Messaging and Document use cases; but, perhaps more importantly, FHIR also supports both REST and Service use cases. In addition, FHIR is in many ways custom built for the security and transport requirements of mobile use cases, and contains resource definitions that will enable social use cases like circle of care and information provenance. For existing health information systems and applications, as well as new, FHIR creates new ways to expose, access, and share information; providing not only tools, but also challenges.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yosemite Project and other Chimera

In Greek mythology, the chimera  was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid nightmare composed of the parts of more than one animal, a lion with the head of a goat rising out of its back, and a tail with a snake's head; a nasty piece of business, eventually dispatched by Bellerophon with some assistance from Pegasus.

Chimera was also the subject of a presentation by Jeni Tennison, OBE, of the Open Data Institute and W3C TAG, at XMLPrague 2012, entitled "Collisions, Chimera and Consonance in Web Content." In this presentation, she introduces a compelling argument that suggests that currently, in the web, we are dealing with four different formats: HTML, XML, JSON, and RDF.

In many ways, these formats complement one another. Sometimes, they clash, creating impedance and dissonance, and sometimes they merge, forming weird and wonderful hybrids. Tennison's presentation is really quite remarkable, and well worth watching as each of these formats evolves.

As I have previously mentioned, another set of presentations, from Dataversity and SemanticWeb.com, are also worth watching and paying attention to. These deal with the Yosemite Project, ongoing work which intends to position RDF as a Universal Healthcare Exchange Language. This work is important in part because it directly addresses how to go about migrating and transforming between formats, once you can establish a common representation using RDF. In many ways, this is a mythical undertaking, but also very promising.

For instance, with the work underway with Project Argonaut and HL7 FHIR, you are looking at a standard for healthcare that comes in two flavours, XML and JSON; however, like its predecessor HL7 CDA, FHIR relies on a human-readable portion, which in this case means HTML5. Add to that the work underway with Yosemite - go watch the presentations! Now you have an ecosystem that supports appropriate use of HTML, XML, JSON, and RDF - the subject of  Dr. Tennison's XMLPrague presentation - now in the context of healthcare. This is really what John Halamka has referred to as the "HTTP and HTML for healthcare".

If you broaden your horizons just a little, you will see some of the work which is also being carried out by Health & Human Services and the NIEM Health Domain, as a counterpart to the work of HL7 International. NIEM is primarily an XML-based standard, but in the last couple years, the underlying tooling there is expanding into UML-, JSON-, and HTML-based representations. With the support of some underlying ontology work, perhaps in concert with Yosemite, NIEM too could be used to create linked health data. These are all very exciting, very important things that are happening very very quickly, and it is a great time to get involved with some of these projects and initiatives.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Project Yosemite, SMART on FHIR, and the Argonauts

The Argonaut Project is a collaboration between Health industry vendors like McKesson, Epic, Meditech and so forth, along with the Mayo Clinic and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to provide the necessary resources to complete the work of the upcoming HL7 FHIR DSTU (Draft Standard for Trial Use). As Grahame Grieve elaborates on OpenHealthNews, Argonaut is aimed at three particular pieces of work:
  1. Security
  2. CCDA to FHIR Mapping
  3. FHIR Implementation Testing
This work is intended for completion by May 2015. As described, the Security piece initially involves SMART on FHIR®, a platform developed by Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, implementing open standards for healthcare data, authorization, and UI integration. For authorization, SMART uses OAuth2, a profile for which will most likely become built in to the FHIR standard.

Josh Mandel, the lead architect behind SMART on FHIR® also spoke recently as part of a series on  of five presentations on Project Yosemite, held by SemanticWeb.org and DataVersity. Project Yosemite began a year or so ago with the Yosemite Manifesto, which establishes RDF (the Resource Description Framework that underlies the Semantic Web and Linked Data) as the best candidate for a universal healthcare exchange language. Project Yosemite follows two paths, "Standards" and "Translation", based on the premise that standards adoption is of primary importance, but that there will always be a need to translate between standards, and even between versions of the same standard.

The idea here is that once you build ontological mappings of various healthcare standards into RDF representations, then Semantic mapping tools like SPINMap and TopQuadrant's TopBraid can be used to construct robust migration/translation layers. This is the first step in producing a distributed network of Linked Health providers, similar to the work currently taking place with Linked Data. At this point, the presentation recordings from DataVersity are not yet all available, but they are definitely worth watching.

HL7 FHIR provides a potential successor to several HL7 standards currently in use internationally. Migration is a critical success factor here, and Project Yosemite presents a different way to approach migration. Perhaps coincidentally, RDF and FHIR are both resource-based approaches; RSS is a syndication format that emerged from work with RDF, and FHIR uses a similar syndication format, Atom, to aggregate and compose health resources, like Patient and Observation.

Project Yosemite benfits FHIR and Project Argonaut, Argonaut accelerates the first phase of ONC Data Access Framework (DAF) project. Project Yosemite is involved with ICD-11. This seems like lot of convergence, and the next 6 months will really show how much. It's a great time to get involved.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

HL7 FHIR and Argonaut in Canada

I am Canadian, so for me, Argonauts play football, and by football, I don't mean soccer. The Argonaut Project is also the subject of a recent announcement at last week's HL7 Policy Conference in Washington, in response to the latest JASON Report. There appears to be a mythological theme emerging in Health IT, and I'm looking forward to an opportunity at some point to scream "release the KRAKEN!!!" or something similar. But not yet.

The Argonaut Project has the backing of a number of American EHR vendors, including Epic, Cerner, Meditech, McKesson, athenahealth, with additional support from Partners HealthCare, Intermountain Healthcare, Beth Israel Deaconess, and Mayo Clinic. The project extends involvement these organizations already have with HL7 International, and promises to deliver implementation guides related to an emerging HL7 standard, HL7 FHIR, by May timeframe 2015.

This is a diverse group of collaborators and an aggressive timeline, but what does this mean for Health IT projects here in Canada?

Migration and Transformation

Whereas HL7 v2 uses "pipe and caret" notation, and HL7 v3 supports any wire format as long as it is XML, HL7 FHIR comes in two flavours, XML and JSON (which makes it particularly useful for mobile use cases). By design, FHIR is intended to provide a migration path for v2, v3, and CDA. This really reminds me of the intentions behind the development of XML in particular, as a sort of lingua franca for the web, and in that sense, XML has been very successful. As mentioned, for mobile and social use cases, a JSON-based standard for health information will be hugely beneficial as well.

In Canada, we have built a foundation of healthcare registries and repositories based on HL7 v3 Messaging, although the applications that are in place in Hospitals and other Health Information sources typically come from U.S. vendors including many of those mentioned above, which requires a transformation layer from v2 to v3 and back again. I'd like to imagine a world where both the foundation and the Hospital information systems can communicate using the same standard, or through an integration layer that uses a common standard. Argonaut is at the very least a step in that direction.

Documents and Messages

Here in Canada, we have built our information access layer for health around Messaging; in the U.S., Document-centric health prevails. Canadian projects may involve the HL7 Clinical Document Architecture (CDA), but these are more limited in scope than the foundational work which has been carried out involving HL7 v3 Messaging. Recent guidance from Canada Health Infoway is to use the most appropriate standard for the job at hand. In many cases, that will be v3 Messaging, simply because the work is already underway.

FHIR is quite clever in that it is based around Healthcare resources (Patients, Providers, Observations and so forth), a more granular approach than either CDA or v3 Messaging, and this is how FHIR supports both Message- and Document-based flow of information. This is crucial if your requirements are a hybrid, or if you are currently supporting one approach, but are aware that you will need to support the other. Simply put, FHIR dispels the holy war between Health Messaging and Health Documents. ("Unleash the KRAKEN!!!")

Example: Questionnaires

It goes something like this: you are tasked with creating a set of health questionnaires for a Canadian healthcare organization. Most likely, you will create PDF documents, but you might consider using CDA for a moment, because CDA provides an architecture for Clinical Documents. But that moment would pass. Now, consider this: the FHIR community has already held several connectathons involving questionnaires, and one of its members, David Hay, has already written a series of articles about extending the Questionnaire resource based on his experience.

So that's useful.

In particular, IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) is currently developing multiple profiles using FHIR as a basis for mobile access - (MHD, PDQm, RESTful PIX). With Canada Health Infoway as the home of IHE in Canada, I am hoping that we can find uses for these profiles here as well. These profiles are under development, but if the consortium behind the Argonaut Project really wants to make a difference, they can throw their support behind IHE as well.


HL7 International Press Release
HealthLeaders Media - Argonaut Project is a Sprint toward EHR Interoperability
OnHealthCareTechnology - JASON: The Great American Experiment
HealthcareITNews - Epic, Cerner, others join HL7 project
John Halamka - Life as a Healthcare CIO - Kindling FHIR