An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Stephane Vigot is CEO of Caristix.
Are HL7 interfaces becoming more important or less important with the push for interoperability and the popularity of integrated hospital systems?
HL7 interfaces are becoming more important than ever. Interoperability matters because information has to flow in order to improve patient outcomes, reduce error, reduce costs, and remove duplicate testing. Despite the popularity of integrated systems, much of the data in hospitals, physician practices, and other organizations is still siloed.
ICD-10 computer-assisted coding systems need interfaces. HIEs rely on interfacing. We can’t address continuum of care and accountable care issues unless disparate systems can share information, which requires interfacing.
The next big leap forward we’re facing in healthcare IT is actually using the data in the systems we’re buying — in other words, analytics. Again, interfacing plays a big enabling role here, and in fact, the lack of easy interfacing is why we’re still early on the hype cycle in clinical analytics.
What’s the hardest part about designing, building, and maintaining interfaces?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. They say that when you’ve built one interface between two systems, you’ve built… one interface. Marc Probst, CIO at Intermountain Healthcare, did an interview where he said, "I have a huge staff that does interfaces. And every time the software changes, they do interfaces again. And every time we have a problem, they do interfaces again. It’s not efficient."
The hardest part is that the work you put into one interface isn’t reusable,unless you use Caristix software, though I promised Mr. HIStalk I wouldn’t pitch. HL7 messages and interfaces are everywhere — we just don’t see them. A few weeks ago on HIStalk, Ed Marx wrote about how he sends handwritten thank you notes. The people who really deserve them are the analysts, developers, and testers who design, build, and maintain interfaces. When they do their jobs right, no one notices. When something goes wrong with an interface, that’s when the help desk lights up and they get an earful.
People often express frustration with HL7, saying that system vendors use it in ways that are anything but standard. Is that the case?
To be honest, yes. But can you blame vendors? No. The HL7 standard actually lets you customize an awful lot, from the codes used to indicate patient gender — there are six, and providers can change them — to the length of fields, to how you mention a date. There is a big difference between a date expressed as "2013-11-24" versus "November 24, 2013."
A vendor has to make these calls because the standard doesn’t and the standard wasn’t designed to. I don’t blame the standard because there’s no getting around the fact that healthcare data is complex. Think of a barcode transaction at the grocery store. That’s five to 10 data elements. A med pass with barcode verification, easily 1,000 data elements.
How has your market changed with new Meaningful Use and HIPAA expectations?
Meaningful Use has made some forms of interoperability and information exchange must-dos. The interoperability requirements that were optional in Stage 1 are now core in Stage 2. That places increased pressure on vendor and provider teams to specify, test, and deliver the interfacing-related components of these requirements. The new HIPAA expectations mean that business associates, not just covered entities, need to be more vigilant in preventing theft; loss or improper disposal of data; or direct disclosure of PHI. We’re seeing that it’s becoming increasingly important to be able to show exactly what measures you’ve taken to secure PHI, whether you’re a vendor or a provider.
In the case of HL7 data, if you’re reusing production data in testing systems, you must remove the PHI. We had an example of a vendor customer who worked with months of retrospective HL7 messages from a provider organization. They were analyzing physician performance for a new product, and both organizations were adamant about protecting that PHI.
What are some of the strangest or most interesting interfaces customers have built?
The strangest interfaces? Well, who am I to judge? The most interesting interfaces aren’t about simple data exchange or orders and results. The workflow is transparent and the benefits are immediate. The most interesting ones right now push the envelope on analytics, pulling data that is really tough to get to, and it’s incredibly gratifying to see our software play a role there. I can’t wait to see what our customers come up with next.