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Building the Empire

February 1, 1998
by Charlene Marietti
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STEPPING OVER ALL hopes for accord on hardware platforms, operating systems, network protocols or application formats, the Object Management Group (OMG), Framingham, Mass., seeks solidarity through architectural framework and middleware specifications. "Building systems for the empire," is how C. Peter Waegemann, executive director, Medical Records Institute, and co-chair of the OMG’s healthcare task force, CORBAmed, describes its goals. Unlike the Roman empire, this one is being built by consensus, not by decree.

Less than 10-years-old, the non-profit OMG is the world’s largest software development consortium involved in creating and implementing object technology. Under its auspices, industry leaders come together to develop and formulate standards for product development. OMG is growing rapidly; more than one quarter of its 800-member organization have joined since October 1996.

The OMG is all about connectivity and interoperability across the enterprise. With a foundation architecture now in place, OMG task forces can focus on vertical market domain specifications, one of which is healthcare. Waegemann stresses that the OMG does not duplicate the syntax and protocol efforts of other standards organizations such as HL7, Reference Information Model (RIM) or X.12, but rather, leverages those messaging standards.

The value of a CORBAmed standard to users is significant. Not only does the OMG bring together vendors for a meeting of minds and a forum for compromise, but the process of defining interfaces to vendor technologies is closely tied to real products, notes Carol Burt, president and CEO, 2AB, Inc., Birmingham, Ala., integration architect and CORBA specialist. Participating vendors are committed to offering a commercial product within one year from the time of the standard’s adoption.

Technical staff members from user organizations, although not directly responsible for product development, are very important to the process. To Burt, these "users with a clue" provide valuable insight and direction to standards development efforts and help align product developments to industry needs.

CORBAmed’s full slate of projects to define interface specifications, currently at varying stages of the proposal process, include:

  • Patient identification service (PIDS), to coordinate multiple master patient indexes; for spring 1998 adoption.
  • Lexicon query service (LQS), to provide access to medical terminology systems; for summer 1998 adoption.
  • Healthcare claims facility, to establish an electronic invoice equivalent for claims.
  • Pharmacy interaction facility (PIF), to link prescribers and dispensers.
  • Distributed Clinical Classifier (DCC), to group patients by clinical descriptions.

Good news abounds

OMG’s fast-growing membership signals consensus and commitment among developers. Even Microsoft’s development of proprietary object-oriented technologies seems less at odds with OMG objectives. Waegemann notes, "We often find ourselves pitted against Microsoft, but we are seeing that the two often complement each other. Microsoft’s focus is on the client; CORBA’s is on the server."

The momentum builds as standards proposals enter an acceleration phase. "At this time, the average for a new standards proposal is one very two months," says Waegemann. "By next year, the number will have doubled to two every two months."

There is promise, but much work to be done fo fulfill Waegemann’s vision of "a simplified way of describing a chain of components--of applications--so that any hospital, clinic or physician’s office can take any version and they are interoperable under CORBA management."

Charlene Marietti is senior technology writer at Healthcare Informatics.

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