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

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