Stop the #healthIT 'religious' wars

I seemed to trigger an interesting discussion over on Grahame Grieve's blog when I posted the following question to him on Twitter.

Grahame responded a la blog, but not really answering the essence of my question.

However, below is a great comment copied directly from the discussion thread, and submitted by Koray Atalag (from openEHR NZ). In it he has succeeded in expanding my twitter-concise thoughts rather eloquently:

"Hi guys,

I’m interested in getting these two awesome formalisms as close as possible. In what way – have no clue at the moment apart from existing mutual understanding and sympathy at a personal level. Well that’s where things start I guess ;) Ed Hammond once said, as he was visiting us in Auckland last year, convergence in standards is a must, mappings just become complex and hard to maintain. I kind of agree with that. Where I’d like to see openEHR and FHIR is really dead simple – Share what they are the best. Here is how I see things (and apologise if you find too simplistic): 1) Archetypes are THE way to model clinical information – anyone argue with that? 2) FHIR IS the way to exchange health information over the wire; modern, non-document/message oriented, heaps of interest from vendors etc. 3) openEHR’s Model Driven Development methodology can be used to create very flexible and highly maintainable health information systems. So this is a different territory that FHIR covers. Inside systems vs. Outside. A growing number of vendors have adopted this innovative approach but it’d be dumb to expect to have any significant dominance over the next decade or so.

So why not use openEHR’s modelling methodology and existing investment which includes thousands of expert clinicians’ time AND feed into FHIR Resource development – I’d assume Archetypes will still retain lots of granularity and the challenge would be to decide which fall under the 80%. I take it that this proportion thing is not mathematical but a commonsense thingy.

As with anything in life there is not one perfect way of doing health IT; but I feel that FHIR based health information exchange with propriety (and from the looks increasingly monolithic) large back-end HIS and openEHR based health information systems working with rich and changeable clinical data (note some Big Data flavour here ;)will prevail in this rapidly changing environment.

So I’m interested – probably mapping as a starting step but without losing time we need to start working together.

The non-brainer benefits will be: 1) FHIR can leverage good content – I tend to think a number of Published or Under Review type archetypes have been in use in real life for a while and that’s probably what Heather was referring to by clinical validation. A formal clinical validation is a huge undertaking and absolutely unnecessary I guess unless you’re programming the Mars Colonisation Flight health information systems!

2) openEHR can learn from FHIR experience and use it as the means to exchange information (I haven’t yet seen EHR Extracts flying over using modern web technologies). There is an EHR service model and API but I’d say it is not as mature as rest of the specs.

3) Vendors (and the World for that matter) can benefit from 1) mappings; and then 2) better FHIR Resources in terms of more effectively managing the semantic ‘impedance mismatch’ problem. An example is medication – I’d assume an HIS data model for representing medication should have at least the same granularity as the FHIR Resource it ought to fill in (practically only the mandatory items). If any less you’re in trouble – but having a sound model will ease the HIS internal data model matching and help with deciding which part is 80% vs. 20%.

4) Needless to say vendors/national programmes using pure openEHR vs. FHIR + something else will benefit hugely. Even ones using CDA – remember some countries are using (or just starting as in New Zealand) Archetypes as a reference library and then creating payload definitions (e.g. CDA) from these. So having this openEHR – FHIR connection will help transition those CDA based implementations to FHIR. Interesting outcome ;)

5) I think in the long run vendors can see the bigger picture around dealing with health information inside their systems and perhaps start refactoring or rebuilding parts of it; e.g. clinical data repositories. An HIS with sound data model will likely to produce better FHIR instances and definitely have more capability for using that information for things like advanced decision support etc.

All for now…"

And then the conversation continues, including Thomas Beale from @oceaninfo and Borut Fabjan from @marandlab. I know of many others who have expressed a strong desire for openEHR clinical content and FHIR to be more aligned and collaborative.

FHIR seems here to stay - it is gathering fantastic momentum. The openEHR methodology for developing clinical content is also gathering momentum, including national program adoption in a number of countries and in clinical registries.

Chuck Jaffe (CEO of HL7) emphasised the need for collaboration between standards at last week's Joint Inter-Ministerial Policy Dialogue on eHealth Standardization and Second WHO Forum on eHealth Standardization and Interoperability at the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

So let's do it.

We all live in the real world and need to be more proactive in working together.

It is time to stop the 'religious wars', especially the long-time, tedious 'not invented here' argument between openEHR and HL7 and the ever-ongoing lets 'reinvent the wheel' approach to EHR content that occurs more broadly.

I call on all participants in the eHealth standards world to get the 'best of breed' standards working together.