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A Chat With HL7's New CTO

October 25, 2007
by Daphne Lawrence
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John Quinn aims to keep HL7 in focus and in touch as the organization's recently announced CTO.

In September, Health Level Seven (HL7), a healthcare IT standards development organization with broad international representation, announced the appointment of John Quinn as CTO. Accenture (New York) and HL7 (Ann Arbor, Mich.) reached an agreement that Quinn, who is CTO of Accenture's U.S. Provider Practice, would also take on the HL7 role.

In his new job, Quinn will implement HL7's product and services strategy in conjunction with the CEO, oversee the timely delivery of standards, and report on progress of key initiatives and specifications to the membership and stakeholders. He will lead HL7's Technical Steering Committee, support the harmonization of standards with other standard development organizations, oversee the work of staff project managers and ensure the quality of ballots and specifications.

Recently, HCI Senior Associate Editor Daphne Lawrence chatted with John about his new duties.

Q: John, congratulations on your appointment. Is the role of chief technology officer (CTO) a new one at HL7?

A: Yes it is. It's part of a reorganization that's been going on in HL7 going back about two years. For the past 18 years my title has been technical steering committee chair — and the organization is only 20 years old.

Q: And you will continue as CTO of Accenture's U.S. Provider Practice?

A: Yes, Accenture has decided to fund my participation with HL7 at a full time level. HL7's endeavors are sponsored in part by benefactors such as Accenture, Intel, and many others.

Q: John, what exactly does the CTO role at HL7 entail?

A: The CTO is responsible for managing and understanding the technology itself — the architecture and how the technology of products aligns with designs is associated with the overall business strategy of the entity. The function of the role is to understand the technology, understand the architecture, understand what's going on inside of the products being developed at HL7, and how they align and are kept in line with the business strategies of HL7. The role can be looked at as the transparent, two-way portal between the board and the working groups the produce the product.

Q: So you basically have to speak both languages?

A: Yes, and I also have to keep track of resources, especially anything that has to do with money. I'm responsible for specifying but I'm not responsible for getting the funds. My role is more reporting than controlling.

Q: What was your first challenge at HL7?

A: The reorganization of HL7 itself, and I was also filling dual roles at the time because we are in a transition phase. The transition processes should be finalized in January, with new bylaws, new policies and procedures in place.

Q: Can you speak to the reorganization a little?

A: We started a couple of years ago. It was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which came to us and said, "You could really benefit from a strategic review of your goals in the organization, and we're willing to fund that."

Q: What's going to be different in the new structure?

A: What's going to be different is how we govern and run the technical production of HL7. It has been very bottoms up-driven in the past. We got survey feedback from consultants that said members were frustrated that there wasn't good direction from the top and that we were working at cross purposes. All the reorganization really occurs at the top. The basic committees are unchanged.

Q: So what's the first goal in your new role at HL7?

A: The first goal is to develop that transparency necessary between the HL7 board and the technical steering committee — this issue of business goals and objectives making it into the technical steering committee and the technical steering committee responding back and making its needs obvious and transparent to the board.

Q: Is there any change in the strategic vision?

A: Yes, in the sense of how we relate to governance and how the inputs come into HL7 and how our stakeholders communicate their needs to us is far more organized and focused.

Q: You have significant global involvement, correct?

A: We've been global since 91, with at least 28 international affiliates. HL7 is an ISO standard used by many countries.

Q: Is there any legislature coming down the pike that HL7 is poised to be responsive to?

A: Well actually it's a little closer in than legislative. The Department of Health and Human Services created a group called Health Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) a few years ago. HITSP really is the clearinghouse for what standards are going to be used in electronic processes in healthcare. HL7 plays a very large role in that.

Q: In what way?

A: Many of the standards specified are HL7 standards. The industry relies on us because of the work we've done over the last 20 years.

Q: You mean things like the new claims attachment from CMS?