Sharing health information.

I spent some time in the healthcare informatics business, the people responsible for data and content in the medical world. I’ve seen a few articles recently about health care information; particularly regarding privacy and sharing. David Weinberger’s post on the National Health Information Infrastructure (NHII) got me thinking.

Net users think in terms of internet protocols – simple connectivity and ease of information flow. Medical information isn’t like that. It uses archaic, essentially proprietary protocols like DICOM and HL7, with nary a bit of XML in sight. Different specialties like Radiology and Cardiology don’t always agree on protocols, or even terminology. A great deal of information is analog rather than digital, and plenty is still captured on paper. Security of the information is a concern as well.

The NHII aims to improve the secure movement and usage of patient health care information. David suggests that if patients don’t trust the system, they won’t provide information. That isn’t really accurate though; information is created (and provided) everytime we visit our primary care physician, a clinic, a hospital, or any other healthcare provider. The data exists, so we need to ensure that it is secure, yet can be used by those providers who need it. The holy grail of healthcare informatics is the Electronic Patient Record, a patient’s lifetime record of their health history, care, and treatment. That is what the NHII can help achieve, allowing providers to have a clearer picture of a patient’s case history.

Doing away with some of the arcane protocols and adopting more flexible web standards would be a start.

One thought on “Sharing health information.

  1. In trying to achieve interoperability, semantic issues are of prime importance, the format or transport are relatively unimportant. Note that NHII recommends the use of HL7 version 3, which unlike HL7 version 2 is an XML based standard. Web standards are nice, but are not a key issue when it comes to interoperability, for that is much more about processes and semantics.

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