Clinical Knowledge Manager

Representing FHIR clinical content in openEHR

Over the past few days I’ve attempted the task of representing the FHIR Skin and Wound Assessment profiles using openEHR archetypes.

I note that there are three Skin and Wound Assessment FHIR Implementation Guides available online:

  1. "Full CIMI" version – which is the one I chose to model;

  2. Federal Health Information Model (FHIM) version; and

  3. Mitre’s ‘mini-CIMI’ version.

I’m a clinical modeler, a clinician by background, so I’m always looking at how we can best represent clinical data in ways that are friendly to grassroots, non-technical clinicians of any sort. The FHIR IG is a tough beast to decipher, despite my experience of gathering patient requirements and turning them into implementable specifications for more than a decade.

My intent as I started this work was specifically that as a clinician I didn’t want to have to fully understand the FHIR representation. I wanted to be able to look at the clinical data and recreate it using my familiar openEHR tooling and representations.

I estimate that it has taken me nearly 2 full days of work – much more than I anticipated - and mostly to trawl through the myriad of online pages for each FHIR resource and associated profile, then to piece together the connections visually so that I could create/reuse appropriate openEHR archetypes and templates. The openEHR representation didn’t take long, largely because of reuse. It was the analysis that was the time killer.

Despite all of that effort, I am still not confident that I’ve got it right. But the following post reflects my experience, plus learnings and some queries.

My modelling assumptions

The three base clinical representations that I’ve gleaned is the Wound Presence Assertion, the Wound Absence Assertion and the Wound Panel Assessment.

Rightly or wrongly, my openEHR templates assume the following:

  • ‘Wound Presence Assertion’ profile is the equivalent of our recording a diagnosis and overview of a wound – so I’ve created a Wound Presence Assertion template, based on the EVALUATION.problem_diagnosis);

  • ‘Wound Absence Assertion’ profile is the positive assertion that a wound is excluded or not present; and

  • ‘Wound Assessment Panel’ is the equivalent of clinical examination findings about a single, identified wound – so I’ve created a Wound Assessment Panel template, based on the OBSERVATION.exam archetype.

  • If FHIR components were modelled as 0..1 occurrences then I added them to the archetype at the root level – see the size measurements and edge related data elements in the Examination of a Wound CLUSTER archetype.

  • If FHIR components were modelled as 0..* occurrences then I added them as repeatable internal cluster groupings – see the Tunnelling and Undermining clusters in the same archetype.

openEHR Representation

You’ll note that I haven’t created a template for the Wound Absence Assertion. I’ll be curious to understand the use case from the FHIR modellers but I cannot understand the use case where a clinician will explicitly record that a wound is absent, not there. They will record that a previously known wound has healed over, or that the skin in the area is normal. But to record that a pressure ulcer on the right buttock is absent – I don’t think so, not even in a medico-legal scenario! If someone can provide me with a use case, I’m happy to reconsider…

I’ve uploaded the resulting two templates and the associated archetypes to a public incubator on CKM. You can view them all here:

The two templates comprise 6 reused archetypes, and I created two new archetypes:

The clinical content within the FHIR IG is generally very sound, and I can see that a lot of work has gone into the development of it and especially the value sets. It is a very useful resource, if you can discern the content in amongst all of the rest of the tech spec. I must admit I got very frustrated and very confused and had to restart a few times.

Once I’d teased it out, I’m very grateful to those who did the hard yards of clinical analysis that underpins this Skin and Wound assessment. Credits on the IG attribute the domain content analysis to Susan Matney from Intermountain Health. I have some other questions for clarifications and would like to discuss a few issues but otherwise this is a really sound piece of work and I’m very pleased with the end result in openEHR.

The templates are up on CKM for you to take a look at:

The rather ugly CKM default UI for templates is deliberately designed for displaying the individual data elements and most of the relevant constraints – much easier for a clinician to be able to review and approve from a content point of view. CKM doesn’t display the URL to value sets, although if you download the .oet and .opt files you will find them safely stored within the code.

Questions, issues

General modelling

I’ve reconfirmed that the openEHR reference model is a godsend. That the data types have set attributes is a given and doesn’t need to be represented over and over again is something I now appreciate enormously, including null flavours etc. Brilliant. There is so much endless repetition in the FHIR resources for RM related data and it takes ages to locate the real clinical data amongst everything else.

Wound Presence Assertion

  • Anatomical location of the wound is only recorded in this model. I’m not so sure about whether this is a good idea. I think that anatomical location should also be modelled for each examination event (ie included in the Wound Assessment Panel) so that what is being examined is clear and unambiguous. At present the anatomical location of the wound represented by the Assessment Panel appears to only be associated with the Presence Assertion via a common identifier (WoundIdentifier).
    Note that I can only find the Anatomical location model in the Logical model and not in the Profile, so maybe I’m missing something?

  • In the logical model, Laterality is represented as ‘Unilateral left’, ‘Unilateral right’ and ‘Bilateral’. I totally agree with the left and right but I have a major problem with identifying one (or more) wound(s) as ‘bilateral’. ‘Bilateral’ should probably not refer to direct observational exam findings at all, but is may have some value in recording conclusions. For example, in examination of each ankle, the finding of pitting oedema may be made, but each side is likely to need explicit recording of different severity or association with ulceration etc, so the findings from each side should be recorded one separately. However, the conclusion of the clinician, at a higher level of abstraction in a physical findings summary or as a diagnosis, may well be bilateral ankle oedema, but it is not advised for use at the point of recording the examination findings.
    Given that this representation of anatomical location is in the Assertion and as best I can tell the concept being modelled is a single Wound (SNOMEDCT::416462003), the notion of a bilateral wound is not appropriate.

  • Clinical status values – now these were tricky. We have an existing ‘Problem/diagnosis qualifier’ archetype. It is a messy beastie, largely because clinicians are notoriously messy at how they record these kind of things. The FHIR value set used in this template comprises values from 4 (yes, four) data elements that we have identified as having completely different axes in our archetype. The FHIR value set is drawn from parts of each of our ‘Active/Inactive’, ‘Resolution phase’, ‘Remission status’ and ‘Episodicity’ data elements.

Wound Assessment Panel

  • As above, I’m concerned that there is no explicit recording of the Anatomical location/laterality parameters so that we can track examination findings over time, especially if there are multiple wounds. An identifier as a connector seems a little flimsy for me.

  • The concept seems to be a generic wound, but the data elements seem to be focused on recording the findings of an open, ulcerated lesion in reality. If the wound was a long laceration, for example, there are parameters missing such as beginning and end point, relative location to a body landmark. An animal bite might also be difficult to record at the best of times, and something simple like a narrative description would also be helpful.

  • There is a data point about a pressure ulcer association, with two values – device and pressure site, which reinforces the focus on a pressure ulcer and is very specific. I have modelled that same data point as a repeating cluster pattern of a ‘Factor’ associated present/absent attributes to make this model more applicable to a range of wounds.

  • Tunnelling is a tricky concept to model. In the FHIR model, tunneling seems to assume that the tunneling radiates out from the edge of the wound but doesn’t allow for deep tunneling from the middle of the wound to be recorded.

  • The use of a clockface direction is common in a few clinical scenarios, including this one. However the openEHR experience has identified that in order to represent it accurately a few assumed items need to be recorded, such as identification of the central landmark around which the clockface is oriented, as well as the anatomical landmark that identified the 12 o’clock reference point. See our recently published Circular anatomical location archetype.

  • The Undermining model is represented in the archetype/template as a repeating CLUSTER to allow multiple measurements of the amount undermined in different directions. In the FHIR model, the length and direction are both optional. In the archetype I’ve made the length mandatory as there is no point recording a direction by itself.

  • I did not model exudate volume in the template as it is measured, and it is not clear to me how you measure a volume at an examination (assuming this assumption about the recording context is correct). Rather it is usually recorded over time, and so does not seem to belong here. I did model the Amount, with a value set that is not available to view, as I assume it is descriptive and could be appropriate here.

  • Episode is modelled within this context, however it seems to me that it is probably better placed in the Assertion. See the ‘Episodicity’ data element within  the Problem/diagnosis qualifier archetype.

  • Similarly ‘Trend’ feels a little tricky in the context of examination findings. I guess that it could be useful if part of a sequence of exam findings and if it correlated back to the longer timeframe of ‘Course description’ narrative within the Problem/Diagnosis archetype.

  • There are a few data element which record Yes/No/Unknown answers as though it is answering a questionnaire within the context of recording exam findings. In openEHR we tend to record these as findings that are Present/Absent/Indeterminate so that we can bind, arguably, more meaningful codes to each value and not mix history-like recording with observations.  

For a grassroots clinician to review the content there is no doubt that the IG is next to impossible. Perhaps the FHIR community has a more clinician-friendly view that I’m not aware of. It is absolutely needed!

Wouldn’t it be great if FHIR and openEHR communities could collaborate such that this CKM representation could be used to support the FHIR work… but I’ve probably said that a million times… or maybe more. Perhaps one day <sigh>.

Bridging the interop chasms

True or false: if we want to achieve any degree of semantic interoperability in our clinical systems we need to standardise the clinical content, keeping it open and independent of any single implementation or messaging formalism?

Case Study: Clinical Engagement

Bridging the gap between the clinical experts and software engineers involved in eHealth projects is well known for being difficult and frustrating for both sides. The openEHR methodology is having great success in bringing the non-technical clinicians along with us on the clinical modelling journey.

The challenge for FHIR: meeting real world clinician requirements

With the increasing burden of technical engagement resulting from the incredible expectations generated by FHIR globally, perhaps the clinical content specification should be outsourced to... the clinicians first of all, ensuring that the clinical content can be represented in a technical format for implementation.

Clinical modelling, openEHR style

The outcome of a program of coordinated clinical content standardisation provides a long term and sustainable national approach to developing, maintaining and governing jurisdictional health data specifications. It can form the backbone for a national health data strategy and is a key way to ensure that clinicians contribute their expertise to jurisdictional eHealth programs.

The Archetype 'Elevator Pitch'

I've been asked for the classic 'elevator pitch': How does a non-openEHR expert, non-geek explain the notion of developing a library of archetypes to their colleague or boss?

Engaging clinicians: building EHR specifications

There is a methodology that is pragmatically evolving from my experience in openEHR clinical modelling work over the past few years. It has developed in a rather ad hoc way, and totally in response to working directly with clinicians. The simplicity and apparent effectiveness – both for me and the clinicians involved - continues to surprise me each time I use it. The clinical content specifications for specialised health records and care plans that we are building are being developed with a sequence of expert input and clinical verification:

  1. Identifying the clinical requirements and business rules in conjunction with a selected initial domain expert group;
  2. Broader abstract verification of the notion of ‘maximal data set’ for ‘universal use case’ during formal archetype review cycles;
  3. Contextual validation during template review by ‘on-the-ground’ clinicians; and finally, although to a lesser degree,
  4. Validation during mapping and migration of legacy data.

With each project I am refining this process. Starting off a project with face-to-face meetings has been a ‘no brainer’ – after all, it takes a while for everyone to understand the get the idea of what we are doing. However after initial workshops, pretty much everything else can be done via web conference, online collaboration via CKM and email.

I find the initial workshops are usually greatly satisfying. Within hours we can be creating two outputs – a mind map that reflects the clinicians evolving conversation about their requirements and, in parallel, an equally agile template of clinical content specifications that can be verified by the clinicians in real time.

The mind map is displayed on a shared screen or via a data projector and acts as a living document, evolving as we talk through the clinical requirements, and identify the complexities, dependencies and relationships of all the components. The final mind map may be surprisingly different to how it started, and at the end of the conversation, the clinicians can verify that what they’ve said if accurately reflected in the mind map. It is an open source tool, so we can also share this around after the workshop for further comments.

Subsection of a mind map

Most recently I have begun building a template on the fly during the workshop, using any existing archetypes that are available, and identifying gaps or the need for new archetypes on the mind map as we go. In this way we are actually building the content specification in front of the clinicians as well. They get an understanding of how the abstract discussion will actually shape the resulting EHR content and they can verify it as we gradually pull it together. The domain experts are immediately equipped to answer the question: “Does this specification match what you have been telling me you do in practice?”

Same subsection of the mindmap as a template specification

This methodology seems to bring the clinicians along with us on the clinical modelling journey, and most are able to understand at least some of the implications of some of our requirements discussions and, in particular, the ‘shape’ of the data that we can collect. It is a process seems to suit the thinking process of many clinicians and the overwhelmingly consistent feedback from recent workshops is that they have all actually enjoyed the experience and want to know what are the next steps for them to be involved. So that’s certainly a winner.

And the funders/jurisdictions are anecdotally confirming for me that they are finding that this approach is supporting higher quality specifications in a much shorter time frame.

For example, at a project kickoff workshop for a new project recently, in two days we:

  • developed a series of mind maps capturing a consensus view of the clinical requirements and business processes;
  • identified all the archetypes required for the entire project, including those that existed and were ‘fit for use’, those that needed some extension to meet requirements and new archetypes that needed to be created;
  • identified sources of information or mind mapped the requirements for each new archetype identified; and
  • built 3 templates comprising all of the existing archetypes available from a number of sources – the NEHTA CKM, the openEHR international CKM and local drafts that I had on my own computer. For a number of the new archetypes we also collectively identified source information that would inform or be the basis for the archetype development.

All of this described above took 8 medical practitioners clinicians away from their everyday practice for only 1-2 days, each according to their availability. Yet it provided the foundation for development of a new clinical application.

Then I go home. Next steps are to refine the mind map, modify/update/specialise any archetypes for which we have identified new requirements and build the new ones. And in parallel start the collaborative process through a CKM project to ensure that existing and modified archetypes are ‘fit for (our project’s) purpose’, and to upload and initiate reviews on the new draft archetypes.

All work to progress these archetypes to maturity (ie aiming for clinical consensus) and then validate the templates as ready for handover to the implementers can be done online, asynchronously and at a time convenient to the clinicians work/life balance!

Clinician-friendly view of the same template in CKM

I live over 2000 kilometres away from these clinicians. Yet the combination of web conference and CKM enables us to operate as an ongoing collaborative team. It seems to be working well at the moment... No doubt I'll continue to learn how to do it better.

The Archetype Journey...

I'm surprised to realise I've been building archetypes for over 7 years. It honestly doesn't feel that long. It still feels like we are in the relatively early days of understanding how to model clinical archetypes, to validate them and to govern them. I am learning more with each archetype I build. They are definitely getting better and the process more refined. But we aren't there yet. We have a ways to go! Let me try to share some idea of the challenges and complexities I see…

We can build all kinds of archetypes for different purposes.

There are the ones we just want to use for our own project or purpose, to be used in splendid isolation. Yes, anyone can build an archetype for any reason. Easy as. No design constraints, no collaboration, just whatever you want to model and as large or complex as you like.

But if you want to build them so that they will be re-used and shared, then a whole different approach is required. Each archetype needs to fit with the others around it, to complement but not duplicate or overlap; to be of the same granularity; to be consistent with the way similar concepts are modelled; to have the same principles regarding the level of detail modelled; the same approach to defining scope; and of course the same approach to defining a clinical concept versus a data element or group of data elements… The list goes on.

Some archetypes are straightforward to design and build, for example all the very prescriptive and well recognised scales like the Braden Scale or Glasgow Coma Scale. These are the 'no brainers' of clinical modelling.

Some are harder and more abstract, such as those underpinning a clinical decision support system of orders and activities to ensure that care plans are carried out, clinical outcomes achieved and patients don't 'fall through the cracks' from transitions of care.

Then there are the repositories of archetypes that are intended to work as single, cohesive pool of models – each archetype for a single clinical concept that all sits closely aligned to the next one, but minimising any duplication or overlap.Archetype ecosystem

That is a massive coordination task, and one that I underestimated hugely when we embarked on the development of the openEHR Clinical Knowledge Manager, and especially more recently, the really active development and coordination required to manage the model development, collaboration and management process within the Australian CKM – where the national eHealth program and jurisdictions are working within the same domain of models, developing new ones for specific purposes and re-using common, shared models for different use cases and clinical contexts.

The archetype ecosystems are hard, numbers of archetypes that need to work together intimately and precisely to enable the accurate and safe modelling of clinical data. Physical examination is the perfect example that has been weighing on my mind now for some time. I've dabbled with small parts of this over the years, as specific projects needed to model a small part of the physical exam here and there. My initial focus was on modelling generic patterns for inspection, palpation, auscultation and percussion – four well identified pillars of the art of clinical examination. If you take a look at the Inspection archetype clinicians will recognise the kind of pattern that we were taught in First Year of our Medical or Nursing degrees. And I built huge mind maps to try to anticipate how the basic generic pattern could be specialised or adapted for use in all aspects of recording the inspection component of clinical examination.mindmapOver time, I have convinced myself that this would not work, and so the ongoing dilemma was how to approach it to create a standardised, yet extraordinarily flexible solution.

Consider the dilemma of modelling physical examination. How can we capture the fractal nature of physical examination? How can we represent the art of every clinician's practice in standardised archetypes? We need models that can be standardised, yet we also need to be able to respond to the massive variability in the requirements and approach of each and every clinician. Each profession will record the same concept in different levels of detail, and often in a slightly different context. Each specialty will record different combinations of details. Specialists need all the detail; generalists only want to record the bare basics, unless they find something significant in which case they want to drill down to the nth degree. And don't forget the ability to just quickly note 'NAD' as you fly past to the next part of the examination; for rheumatologists to record a homunculus; for the requirement for addition of photos or annotated diagrams! Ha – modelling physical examination IS NOT SIMPLE!

I think I might have finally broken the back of the physical examination modelling dilemma just this week. Seven years after starting this journey, with all this modelling experience behind me! The one sure thing I have learned – a realisation of how much we don't know. Don't let anyone tell you it is easy or we know enough. IMO we aren't ready to publish standards or even specifications about this work, yet. But we are making good, sound, robust progress. We can start to document our experience and sound principles.

This new domain of clinical knowledge management is complex; nobody should be saying we have it sorted...

Archetype Re-use

Last Thursday & Friday @hughleslie and I presented a two day training course on openEHR clinical modelling. Introductory training typically starts with a day to provide an overview – the "what, why, how" about openEHR, a demo of the clinical modelling methodology and tooling, followed by setting the context about where and how it is being used around the world. Day Two is usually aimed at putting away the theoretical powerpoints and getting everyone involved - hands on modelling. At the end of Day One I asked the trainees to select something they will need to model in coming months and set it as our challenge for the next day. We talked about the possibility health or discharge summaries – that's pretty easy as we largely have the quite mature content for these and other continuity of care documents. What they actually sent through was an Antineoplastic Drug Administration Checklist, a Chemotherapy Ambulatory Care Nursing Intervention and Antineoplastic Drug Patient Assessment Tool! Sounded rather daunting! Although all very relevant to this group and the content they will have to create for the new oncology EHR they are building.

Perusing the Drug Checklist ifrst - it was easily apparent it going to need template comprising mostly ACTION archetypes but it meant starting with some fairly advanced modelling which wasn't the intent as an initial learning exercise.. The Patient Assessment Tool, primarily a checklist, had its own tricky issues about what to persist sensibly in an EHR. So we decided to leave these two for Day Three or Four or..!

So our practical modelling task was to represent the Chemotherapy Ambulatory Care Nursing Intervention form. The form had been sourced from another hospital as an example of an existing form and the initial part of the analysis involved working out the intent of the form .

What I've found over years is that we as human beings are very forgiving when it comes to filling out forms – no matter how bad they are, clinical staff still endeavour to fill them out as best they can, and usually do a pretty amazing job. How successful this is from a data point of view, is a matter for further debate and investigation, I guess. There is no doubt we have to do a better job when we try to represent these forms in electronic format.

We also discussed that this modelling and design process was an opportunity to streamline and refine workflow and records rather than perpetuating outmoded or inappropriate or plain wrong ways of doing things.

So, an outline of the openEHR modelling methodology as we used it:

  1. Mind map the domain – identify the scope and level of detail required for modelling (in this case, representing just one paper form)
  2. Identify:
    1. existing archetypes ready for re-use;
    2. existing archetypes requiring modification or specialisation; and
    3. new archetypes needing development
  3. Specialise existing archetypes – in this case COMPOSITION.encounter to COMPOSITION.encounter-chemo with the addition of the Protocol/Cycle/Day of Cycle to the context
  4. Modify existing archetypes – in this case we identified a new requirement for a SLOT to contain CTCAE archetypes (identical to the SLOT added to the EVALUATION.problem_diagnosis archetype for the same purpose). Now in a formal operational sense, we should specialise (and thus validly extend) the archetype for our local use, and submit a request to the governing body for our additional requirements to be added to the governed archetype as a backwards compatible revision.
  5. Build new archetypes – in this case, an OBSERVATION for recording the state of the inserted intravenous access device. Don't take too much notice of the content – we didn't nail this content as correct by any means, but it was enough for use as an exercise to understand how to transfer our collective mind map thoughts directly to the Archetype Editor.
  6. Build the template.

So by the end of the second day, the trainee modellers had worked through a real-life use-case including extended discussions about how to approach and analyse the data, and with their own hands were using the clinical modelling tooling to modify the existing, and create new, archetypes to suit their specific clinical purpose.

What surprised me, even after all this time and experience, was that even in a relatively 'new' domain, we already had the bulk of the archetypes defined and available in the NEHTA CKM. It just underlines the fact that standardised and clinically verified core clinical content can be re-used effectively time and time again in multiple clinical contexts.The only area in our modelling that was missing, in terms of content, was how to represent the nurses assessment of the IV device before administering chemo and that was not oncology specific but will be a universal nursing activity in any specialty or domain.

So what were we able to re-use from the NEHTA CKM?

…and now that we have a use-case we could consider requesting adding the following from the openEHR CKM to the NEHTA instance:

And the major benefit from this methodology is that each archetype is freely available for use and re-use from a tightly governed library of models. This openEHR approach has been designed to specifically counter the traditional EHR development of locked-in, proprietary vendor data. An example of this problem is well explained in a timely and recent blog - The Stockholm Syndrome and EMRs! It is well worth a read. Increasingly, although not so obvious in the US, there is an increasing momentum and shift towards approaches that avoid health data lock-in and instead enable health information to be preserved, exchanged, aggregated, integrated and analysed in an open and non-proprietary format - this is liquid data; data that can flow.

Warts and all: Reviewing an archetype

During my visit to HIMSS12 in February, I finally met Jerry Fahrni (@JFahrni) face to face - a pharmacist and Twitter colleague I'd had 140 character conversations over some years. We'd also talked on Skype once about some of the clinical archetypes some time ago, and during our HIMSS conversation I managed to persuade him to take a look at the openEHR community's Adverse Reaction archetype and participate in the community review.

He did, and at my further request he has put ink to blog and has recorded his experience as a newbie reviewer so that others might have some sense of what completing an archetype review entails, warts and all.

Jerry's review, reproduced here:

...According to good ol’ Merriam-Webster an archetype is “the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies: also : a perfect example“. Simple enough, but still too vague for my brain so I went in search of a better explanation which I found at Heather’s blog – Archetypical.

According to the Archetypical site ”openEHR archetypes are computable definitions created by the clinical domain experts for each single discrete clinical concept – a maximal (rather than minimum) data-set designed for all use-cases and all stakeholders. For example, one archetype can describe all data, methods and situations required to capture a blood sugar measurement from a glucometer at home, during a clinical consultation, or when having a glucose tolerance test or challenge at the laboratory. Other archetypes enable us to record the details about a diagnosis or to order a medication. Each archetype is built to a ‘design once, re-use over and over again’ principle and, most important, the archetype outputs are structured and fully computable representations of the health information. They can be linked to clinical terminologies such as SNOMED-CT, allowing clinicians to document the health information unambiguously to support direct patient care. The maximal data-set notion underpinning archetypes ensures that data conforming to an archetype can be re-used in all related use-cases – from direct provision of clinical care through to a range of secondary uses.” That gave me a better understanding of what they were trying to do.

Anyway, when Heather asked me to review the Adverse Reaction archetype I was a little hesitant. The projects I’m asked to be involved with are typically much smaller in scale. This was something different and I felt a little intimidated. My gut reaction was to politely decline, but when someone asks you to do something face to face it makes excusing yourself for some lame reason a lot harder. So I agreed with more than a bit of trepidation.

The openEHR project utilizes a system called the Clinical Knowledge Manager (CKM). In the most basic terms, the CKM is an online content management system for all the archetypes being designed by the openEHR project, and it’s impressive. A more in depth description can be found here.

Logging into the system was simple. The email invitation I received to review the Adverse Reaction Archetype contained a link that took me to the exact location I was supposed to be. From there things got a bit more complicated. The CKM is easy enough to navigate, but the amount of information and navigational elements within the system is staggering. It took me a while to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do. Once I figured it out I was able to quickly go through the archetype, read what other comments people had made and make a couple of minor notes myself. One thing I could never completely figure out was how to save my work in the middle and continue later. Sounds simple enough, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t obvious to me. I ended up powering through my “review” in one extended session because I was afraid I’d lose my place. The archetype itself was impressive. It’s clear from the information and detail that people have spent a lot of time and effort developing the adverse reaction archetype. There’s no question that a lot of great minds had been involved in this work. The definition made sense as did the data that was being collected and presented. The archetype offered flexibility for information gathering that included the simplest form of adverse reaction to complex re-exposure and absolute contraindication notation (this is sorely missing in many systems I’ve used over my career). Overall I had little insight to offer during the review, only a couple of minor comments.

I’d say the entire process was pretty straightforward with some minor complications. Like everything else I’m sure the process would get easier over time and multiple uses.

Thanks Jerry. Your independent and honest opinion is much valued. Perhaps next time... !! (Just joking)

Preserving health data integrity

How valuable do we really think health data is? How seriously do we take our responsibility to preserve the integrity of our health data? Probably not nearly as much as we should.

Consider the current situation of most clinicians or organisations when purchasing a clinical EHR system. What do they look for? Many possible answers are obvious, but there is one question that I suspect very few are asking. How many consider what data they will be able to export and convert to another format, preserving the current data integrity, at the end of the typical 5-10 year life span of the application? Am I wrong if I suggest it is not many at all?

Despite all the effort that we clinicians put into entering detailed data to create a quality health record we don't seem to often consider the " What next?" scenario. How much and precisely what data will we be able to safely extract, export, transfer or convert into the next, inevitable, clinical system? Ironically, we are simultaneously well aware that clinical systems have a limited technical life span.

Any and all of the health data in a health record is an incredibly valuable asset to the holder, to the patient (if these are not the same entities) and to those downstream with whom we may share it in the future - in terms of $$ invested; manpower resources used to capture, store, classify, update and maintain it; and not least the future value that comes from appropriate and safe clinical decisions being made upon the integrity of existing EHR data.

Yet we don't seem to consider it much... yet. However, as more clinicians are creating increasing amounts of isolated pockets of health data, we should be thinking about it very hard.

Every time we change systems we put our health data at risk - risk of absolute data loss and risk of possible corruption during the conversion. The integrity of health data cannot be guaranteed each time it is ported into a new system because current methods always require some kind of intervention - mapping, transformations, tweaking, 'cleaning', etc. Small errors can creep in with each data manipulation and which over time, can compromise the safety and value of our health data. On principle we know that the data should not be manipulated, but being limited by our traditional approach to siloed EHR applications, we have previously had little choice.

We need to change our approach and preserve the integrity of our health data at all costs. After all it is the only reason why we record any facts or activity in an electronic health record  - so we can use the data for direct patient care; share & exchange the data; aggregate and analyse the data, and use the data as the basis for clinical decision support.

We should not be focused on the application alone.

Apps will come and go, but we want our health data to persist - accurate and safe for clinical use - beyond the life span of any one clinical software application.

I've said this before, but it's worth saying many times over:

It's. all. about. the. data.

One of the key benefits of the openEHR paradigm is that the data specifications (the archetypes) are defined independently of any specific clinical system or application; are based on an open EHR architecture specification; and are publicly available in repositories such as the Clinical Knowledge Manager. It means that any data that is captured according to the archetype specification is directly usable by any and all archetype-compliant systems. Plus the data is no longer hard-wired into a proprietary application so that it is orders of magnitude easier to accurately share or transfer health data than it has before.

Clinical system vendors that don't directly embrace the archetype-technology may still 'archetype-aware', and can choose to use the archetype specifications as a means to understand the meaning of existing archetyped data and integrate it appropriately into their systems. Similarly they can map from their non-openEHR systems to the archetype specifications as a standardised method for data export and exchange.

The openEHR paradigm enables potential for archetype-compliant systems to share the same archetyped data repository - along the lines of an Apple platform 'plug & play' approach, with applications being added, removed or updated to suit the needs of the end-users, while the data persists intact. No more data conversions needed.

Adapted from Martin van der Meer, 2009

Now that's good news for our health data.

To HIMSS12... or bust!

This blog, and hopefully some others following, will be about my thinking and considerations as I man an exhibition booth at the huge HIMSS12 conference for the first time next month… Well, we’ve committed. We’re bringing some of the key Ocean offerings all across the ocean to HIMSS12 in Las Vegas next month. If it was just another conference, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But this is a seriously daunting prospect for me. I’ve presented papers, organised workshops, and run conference booths in many places over the years – in Sarajevo, Göteborg, Stockholm, Capetown, Singapore, London, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne – but this is sooooooo different!

The equivalent conference here in Australia would gather 600-800 delegates, maybe 40-50 exhibition booths. Most European conferences seem to be a similar size, admittedly these are probably with a more academic emphasis, rather than such a strong commercial bent, which might explain some of the size difference. By comparison, last year’s HIMSS conference had 31,500 attendees and over 1000 exhibition booths – no incorrect zeros here - just mega huge!

I can’t even begin to imagine how one can accommodate so many people in one location. I have never even visited HIMSS before – we are relying heavily on second hand reports. You may start to understand my ‘deer in headlights’ sensation as we plan our first approach to the US market in this way.

Ocean's profile is much higher elsewhere internationally. Our activity in the London-based openEHR Foundation and our products/consulting skills have a reasonable profile in Australia and throughout much of Europe; and awareness is growing in Brazil as the first major region in South America. In many ways the US is the one of the last places for openEHR to make a significant impression – there are some pockets of understanding, but the limited uptake is clearly an orthogonal approach to the major commercial drivers in the US at present, however we are observing that this is slowly changing... hence our decision to run the gauntlet!

openEHR’s key objective is creation of a shareable, lifelong health record - the concept of an application-independent, multilingual, universal health record. The specification is founded upon the the notion of a health record as a collection of actual health information, in contrast to the common idea that a health record is an application-focused EHR or EMR. In the openEHR environment the emphasis is on the capture, storage, exchange and re-use of application-independent data based on shared definitions of clinical content – the archetypes and templates, bound to terminology. In openEHR we call them archetypes; in ISO, similar constructs are referred to as DCMs; and, most recently, there are the new models proposed by the CIMI initiative. It’s still all about the data!

So, we’re planning to showcase two products that have been designed and built to contribute to an openEHR-based health record - the Clinical Knowledge Manager (CKM), as the collective resource for the standardised clinical content, and OceanEHR, which provides the technical and medico-legal foundation for any openEHR-based health record – the EHR repository, health application platform and terminology services. In addition, we’ll be demonstrating Multiprac – an infection control system that uses the openEHR models and is built upon the OceanEHR foundation. So Multiprac is one of the first of a new generation of health record applications which share common clinical content.

This will be interesting experience as neither are probably the sort of product typical attendees will be looking for when visiting the HIMSS exhibition. So therein lies one of our major challenges – how to get in touch with the right market segment… on a budget!

We are seeking to engage with like-minded individuals or organisations who prioritise the health data itself and, in particular, those seeking to use shared and clinically verified definitions of data as a common means to:

  • record and exchange health information;
  • simplify aggregation of data and comparative analysis; and
  • support knowledge-based activities.

These will likely be national health IT programs; jurisdictions; research institutions; secondary users of data; EHR application developers; and of course the clinicians who would like to participate in the archetype development process.

So far I have in my arsenal:

  • The usual on-site marketing approach:
    • a booth - 13342
    • company and product-related material on the HIMSS Online Buyers Guide; and
    • marketing material – we have some plans for a simple flyer, with a mildly Australian flavour;
  • Leverage our website, of course;
  • Developing a Twitter plan for @oceaninfo specifically with activity in my @omowizard account to support it, and anticipating for some support from @openEHR – this will be a new strategy for me;
  • And I’m working on development of a vaguely ‘secret weapon’ – well, hopefully my idea will add a little ‘viral’ something to the mix.

So all in all, this will definitely be learning exercise of exponential proportions.

To those of you who have done this before, I’m very keen to receive any insight or advice at this point. What suggestions do you have to assist a small non-US based company with non-mainstream products make an impact at HIMSS?

Clinical Knowledge Repository requirements

I've been hearing quite a lot of discussion recently about Clinical Knowledge Repositories and governance. Everyone has different ideas - ranging from sharing models via a simple subversion folder through to a purpose-built application managing governance of combinations of versioned knowledge assets (information models, terminology reference sets, derived artefacts, supporting documentation etc) in various states of publication. It depends what you want to achieve, I guess. In openEHR it became clear very quickly that we need the latter in order to provide a central resource with governance of cohesive release sets of assets and packages suitable for organisations and vendors to implement.

In our experience it is relatively simple to develop a repository with asset provenance and user management. What is somewhat harder is when you add in processes of collaboration and validation for these knowledge assets - this requires development of review and editorial processes and, ideally, display transparency and accountability on behalf of those managing the knowledge artefacts.

The most difficult scenario reflects meeting the requirements for practical implementation, where governance of configurable groups of various assets is required. In openEHR we have identified the need for cohesive release sets of archetypes, templates and terminology reference sets. This can be very complicated when each of the artefacts are in various states of publication and multiple versions are in use in 'on the ground' implementations. Add to this the need for parallel iso-semantic and/or derived models, supporting documents, and derived outputs in various stages of publication and you can see how quickly chaos can take over.

So, what does the Clinical Knowledge Manager do?

  1. CKM is an online application based on a digital asset management system to ensure that the models are easily accessed and managed within a strong governance framework.
  2. Focus:
    1. Accessible resource - creation of a searchable library or repository of clinical knowledge assets - in practice, a ‘one stop shop’ for EHR clinical content
    2. Collaboration Portal - for community involvement, and to ensure clinical models that are ‘fit for clinical use’
    3. Maintenance and governance of all clinical knowledge and related resources
  3. Processes to ensure:
    1. Asset management
      1. uploading, display, and distribution/downloading of all assets
      2. collaborative review of primary* assets  to validate appropriateness for clinical use
        1. content
        2. translation
        3. terminology binding
      3. publication life cycle and versioning of primary assets
      4. primary asset provenance, differential and change log
      5. automatic generation of secondary**/derived assets or, alternatively, upload and versioning when auto generation is not possible
      6. upload of associated***/related assets
      7. development of versioned release sets of primary assets for distribution
      8. identify related assets
      9. quality assessment of primary assets
      10. primary asset comparison/differentials including compatibility with existing data
      11. threaded discussion forum
      12. flexible search functionality
      13. coordinate Editorial activity
      14. share notification of assets to others eg via email, twitter etc
    2. User management
    3. Technical management
    4. Reporting
      1. Assets
      2. Users
      3. Editorial activity support

In current openEHR CKM the assets, as classified above, are:

  1. *Primary assets:
    1. Archetypes
    2. Templates
    3. Terminology Reference Set
  2. **Secondary assets:
    1. Mindmaps
    2. XML transforms
    3. plus ability to add transforms to many other formalisms, including CDA
  3. ***Associated assets:
    1. Design documents
    2. References
    3. Implementation guides
    4. Sample data
    5. Operational templates
    6. plus ability to add others as identified

While CKM is currently openEHR-focused - management of the openEHR artefacts was the original reason for it's development - with some work the same repository management, collaboration/validation and governance principles and processes, identified above, could be applied for any knowledge asset, including all flavors of detailed clinical models and other clinical knowledge assets being developed by CIMI, or HL7 etc. Yes, CKM is a currently a proprietary product, but only because it was the only way to progress the work at the time - business models can always potentially be changed :)

It will be interesting to see how thinking progresses in the CIMI group, and others who are going down this path - such as the HL7 templates registry and the OHT proposed Heart project.

We can keep re-inventing the wheel, take the 'not invented here' point of view or we can explore models to collaborate and enhance work already done.

Modelling pregnancy

How to go about using openEHR archetypes to model a shared pregnancy record? Step 1:  Analyse the existing resources; identify each of the discrete clinical concepts that contribute to the whole record.
24 clinical concepts have been identified within this example Pregnancy Health Record.

Step 2: Map clinical concepts to archetypes

Map them to existing archetypes or determine which new ones we need. Determine the state of the existing archetypes – do we need to modify or enhance with additional requirements? Consider all possible use cases for each archetype – the end result will be better if we can be as inclusive as possible for all clinical scenarios.

The archetypes identified for this Pregnancy record are:

Clinical Concept Comment

Corresponding archetype concept name NOTE: is linked to the actual archetype in a CKM instance

Antenatal Plan An overarching plan for the patient's antenatal care Antenatal Plan <INSTRUCTION.antenatal_plan>
Information Provided Details of each piece of health education information discussed or provided to patient Information Provided <ACTION.health_education>
Social Summary Social Summary <EVALUATION.social_summary>
Adverse Reaction List Adverse Reaction list is made up of multiple Adverse Reaction entries Adverse Reaction <EVALUATION.adverse_reaction>
Family History List Family History list is made up of multiple Family History entries Family History <EVALUATION.family_history>
Diagnosis Problem lists, whether current or past are made up of multiple Problem/Diagnosis entries – the same data pattern will be used in all instances Problem/Diagnosis <EVALUATION.problem_diagnosis>
Problem/Diagnosis List
Recent Problem/Diagnosis List
Procedure list Procedure list is made up of multiple Procedure entries Procedure <ACTION.procedure>
Smoking consumption Tobacco use <OBSERVATION.substance_use-tobacco>
Alcohol consumption Alcohol consumption <OBSERVATION.substance_use-alcohol>
Obstetric Summary Obstetric summary <EVALUATION.obstetric_summary>
Pregnancy Summary An evolving summary of key data about a single pregnancy – either current or past Pregnancy summary <EVALUATION.pregnancy_summary>
Examination Findings Examination Findings <OBSERVATION.exam> Examination of the uterus <CLUSTER.exam-uterus> Examination of the fetus <CLUSTER.exam-fetus>
Current Medication List Medication list is made up of multiple Medication instruction entries Medication instruction <INSTRUCTION.medication>
Medication administered Medication action <ACTION.medication>
Height Height/Length <OBSERVATION.height>
Weight Body weight <OBSERVATION.body_weight>
Body Mass Index Body Mass Index <OBSERVATION.body_mass_index>
Blood Pressure Blood Pressure <OBSERVATION.blood_pressure>
Fetal Movements Fetal Movements <OBSERVATION.fetal_movements>
Fetal heart sounds Heart rate and rhythm <OBSERVATION.heart_rate>
Urinalysis The pattern for urinalysis is identical to the pathology test results, and in some cases will be performed in the lab, so the same pattern will be used Pathology test result <OBSERVATION.pathology_test>
Pathology Test results
Ultrasound results Imaging examination result <OBSERVATION.imaging_exam>

KEY: Pink archetype names indicate those that are early drafts. Green archetype names indicate those that are reasonably mature – through previous reviews within CKM Red archetype names indicate those yet to be developed.

Step 3: CKM Review

Within CKM each archetype will undergo review rounds by a range of clinicians, terminologists, software engineers, informaticians and other interested experts. The purpose of each review round will be to fine-tune each archetype so that it meets the requirements for each stakeholder group.

CKM Videos:

Step 4: Create an openEHR template

Once community consensus is reached within CKM, the archetypes will be aggregated and constrained in a template to accurately meet the specific use-case requirements for this particular Pregnancy Health Record. Each bold, black heading in the the following screenshot represents an archetype. The Pregnancy Summary archetype has been opened up to see the details. Black text indicates data elements that will be utilised in this use case; grey text indicates inactive data elements.

Other groups may use the same archetypes aggregated in a different order and constrained in a different way to represent their version of the Pregnancy Health Record. As the data in both Pregnancy Records is being recorded according to the same pattern, dictated by the underlying archetype, the information can be exchanged without ambiguity or loss of meaning.

Quality indicators & the wisdom of crowds

Harnessing the 'wisdom of the crowd' has potential to more powerful than traditional quality processes for a determining the quality of our clinical content in EHRs - we need to learn how best to tap into that wisdom...

Archetype quality I

Up until recently clinical content models, such as archetypes, have been regarded as a novelty; watched from the sidelines with interest from many but not regarded as mainstream. However now that they are increasingly being adopted by jurisdictions and used in real systems, modellers need to change their approach to include processes, methodologies and quality criteria that ensure that the models are robust, credible and fit for purpose. There has been some work done identifying quality criteria for clinical models but there is no doubt that establishing quality criteria for clinical content models is still very much in its infancy:

  • There has been some slowly progressing work in ISO TC 215 - ISO 13972 Health Informatics: Detailed Clinical Models. Recently it has been split into two separate components, not yet publicly available:
    • Part 1. Quality processes regarding detailed clinical model development, governance, publishing and maintenance; and
    • Part II - Quality attributes of detailed clinical models

Most of the work on quality of clinical models has been based largely on theory, with few groups having practical experience in developing and managing collections of clinical models, other than in local implementations.

In 2007, Ocean Informatics participated in a significant pilot project. The recommendations were published in the NHS CFH Pilot Study 2007 Summary Report. My own analysis, conducted in December 2007, revealed that there were 691 archetypes within the NHS repository. Of these, 570 were archetypes for unique clinical concepts, with the remainder reflecting multiple versions of the same concept. In fact, for 90 unique concepts there were 207 archetypes that needed rationalisation – most of these had only two versions however one archetype was represented in five versions! We needed better processes!

Towards the end of 2007 a small team within Ocean commenced building an online tool, the Clinical Knowledge Manager to:

  • function as a clinical knowledge repository for openEHR archetypes and templates and, later, terminology subsets;
  • manage the life-cycle of registered artefacts, especially the archetype content – from draft, through team review to published, deprecated and rejected. Also terminology binding and language translations;
  • governance of the artefacts.

In July 2008 we started uploading archetypes to the openEHR CKM, including many of the best from the NHS pilot project. Over the following months we added archetypes and templates; recruited users; and started archetype reviews. All activity was voluntary – both from reviewers and editors. Progress has thus been slower than we would have liked and somewhat episodic but provided early evidence that a transparent, crowd sourced verification of the archetypes was achievable.

In early 2010, Sweden's Clinical Knowledge Manager had its first archetypes uploaded.

In November 2010, a NEHTA instance of the CKM was launched, supporting Australia's development of Detailed Clinical Models for the national eHealth priorities. This is where most collaborative activity is occurring internationally at present.

In this context, I have pondered the issues around clinical knowledge governance now for a number of years, and gradually our team has developed considerable insight into clinical knowledge governance – the requirements, solutions and thorny issues. To be perfectly honest, the more we delve into knowledge governance, the more complicated we realise it to be – the challenge and the journey continues; a lot is yet to be solved :)

It is relatively easy to identify the high level processes in the development of clinical knowledge artifacts, each of which requires identification of quality criteria and measurable indicators to ensure that the final artifacts are fit for purpose and safe to use in our EHR systems. The process is similar for both archetypes and templates; plus the Requirements gathering and Analysis components are applicable to any single overarching project as well.

For archetypes:

The harder task is that for each of these steps, there are multiple quality criteria that need to be determined, and for each criterion it will be necessary to be able to assess and/or measure them through identifiable quality indicators.

Ideally a quality indicator is a measurement or fact about the clinical model. In some situations it will be necessary to include additional assessments manually performed by qualified experts.

If an indicator can be automatically derived from the Clinical Knowledge Manager (CKM), it ensures that up-to-date assessments of the models are instantly available as the models evolve (such as this Blood Pressure archetype example), and more importantly, without reliance on manual human intervention. However while assessments that do need to be assessed by an expert human – for example, compliance to existing specifications or standards – add valuable depth and richness to the overall quality assessment, they also add a vulnerability due to the need for skilled human resources to not only conduct the assessment, but to apply consistent methodologies during the assessment; these will be much more difficult to sustain.

Assessment of whether the indicators actually satisfy the quality criteria should also ideally be as objective as possible, however our reality is that it will probably more often be subjective and vary depending on the nature of the archetype concept itself. The process cannot be automated, nor can there be a single set of indicators or criteria that will determine the quality of every archetype. We need to ensure appropriate oversight to archetype development, ensuring that a quality process has actually been followed and utilise quality indicators to determine if the quality criteria have been met - on an archetype by archetype basis.

And it continues on...

Clinical modeling: academic vs practical

In a comment on the previous DCM post,  Gordon Tomes sent a link to an interesting 2009 academic paper by Scheuermann, Ceusters & Smith - Toward an Ontological Treatment of Disease and Diagnosis [PDF] There is a place for this 'pure', academic approach as a means to seek clarity in definitions, but a telling sentence in the paper for me is: "Thus we do not claim that ‘disease’ as here defined denotes what clinician in every case refer to when they use the term ‘disease’. Rather, our definitions are designed to make clear that such clinical use is often ambiguous."

This is totally right, but despite the apparent ambiguity this clinicians still manage :)

The approach for archetypes/DCMs is not to get tied up in these definitional knots unnecessarily but to concentrate on consensus building around the structure of the data. Use of ontologies and definitions are key elements in designing and modelling archetypes but the resulting models should not be based on academic theory but on existing clinical practice and processes. Our EHRs need to represent what clinicians actually need to do in order to provide care. Sometimes we need to be practical and pragmatic. For example, I once challenged a dissenter to build a Blood Pressure archetype based purely using SNOMED codes - the result was a nonsense, a model that he agreed was not useable by clinicians.

The approach to building the Problem/Diagnosis archetype has not been to try to differentiate these two terms pedantically. Many have tried to separate a 'Problem' from a 'Diagnosis' for years with little success - no point waiting for this to be resolved, it probably won't. And even if we did make a theoretical decision on a definition for each, the clinicians would still likely classify the way they always did, not the way the academics or standards-makers would like them to do it!

In the  collaborative CKM reviews for the NEHTA Problem/Diagnosis archetype we have been able to observe that clinicians and other stakeholders have achieved some consensus around the structured data required to represent the concepts of a problem plus the addition of some extra optional data elements to represent formal diagnoses. After completing only four review rounds, the discussion now is focused on finessing the metadata and descriptions, not on debating the structure of the model.

Clinicians may still go round in circles arguing about what constitutes an actual problem vs a diagnosis - for example, some may classify  heartburn as a problem, others as diagnosis. No matter. By using a single model to represent both we can ensure that no matter how heartburn may be labelled by any individual clinician, we can easily query and find the data in a health record, and in addition there is a single common model to be referenced by clinical decision support engines.

A small success, maybe.