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HL7, IHE Renew Agreement for Interoperability, FHIR Collaboration

June 21, 2016
by Heather Landi
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Health Level Seven International (HL7) and Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) have renewed their cooperation agreement to advance the goal of interoperability of health information.

In a joint statement of understanding, IHE and HL7 agreed to communicate and better coordinate schedules and projects to expedite the development and adoption of HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard.

“These two organizations have worked in complementary roles over more than 15 years and have been essential to advancing interoperability in health IT,” Michael McCoy, M.D., co-chair of the IHE International board, said in a statement. “HL7 is the leading developer of health IT standards, and IHE has put in place a process to help drive the adoption of standards by the health IT industry.”

IHE committees and participants provide frequent feedback based on IHE implementation and testing experience to relevant HL7 work groups. HL7 and IHE collaborate on testing events and public demonstrations. Additionally, many stakeholders in health IT participate in both organizations.

“We’ve recognized a need to impart more clarity about our mutual roles for the community and the marketplace,” HL7 International CEO Charles Jaffe, M.D., said in a statement in the press release. “With the development of FHIR, HL7 has introduced new processes that may seem to overlap with IHE. Therefore, we will seek to clarify how each organization uses terms such as profile and connectathon, and most importantly, the respective roles our organizations play.”

Going forward, IHE will continue to work to identify specific clinical and operational interoperability use cases and document an implementation of existing standards to address them. The organization will incorporate standards from many different standards organizations, including HL7, W3C, DICOM, CDISC, IEEE and others.

As a platform specification, FHIR is used in many different contexts in healthcare. FHIR profiles adapt the standard for specific uses and localizations, defining the resource elements and extensions, API features, terminologies and conformance rules for targeted implementation guides (IGs). HL7 intends for implementer communities, including IHE, to use the FHIR platform to create other IGs that use FHIR, according to the release.

IHE committees have already published several profiles that reference FHIR, such as the IHE Mobile Access to Health Documents (MHD) profile that extends health information exchange to mobile platforms. The MHD profile builds on the widely adopted IHE Cross-enterprise Document Sharing (XDS) profile for exchanging medical documents (notably documents based on the HL7 Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) standards).

Similarly, to foster the rapid evolution and adoption of FHIR, HL7 FHIR connectathons visibly assess the readiness of FHIR resources, profiles and IGs among multiple stakeholders. One key innovation of the FHIR standard is its rapid development cycles, and FHIR connectathons are a prerequisite for resources and IGs progressing up the FHIR Maturity Model.

“Since 1999, IHE connectathons have provided supervised peer-to-peer testing of vendor systems for compliance with IHE profiles and are intended to speed the adoption of interoperability standards in commercially available health IT systems,” the organizations said in the press release.

To meet the challenge of FHIR’s rapid publication and review cycles, both organizations are improving coordination of roadmaps and release plans so that IHE profiles can reference the latest available release of FHIR for IHE connectathon testing.

HL7 and IHE also agreed to seek opportunities to jointly promote education and the adoption of interoperability standards to the health IT community at industry events.





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