Customer Experience and Design

The Digital Nervous System for Healthcare Providers

Each of us has stubbed our toe and waited for the signal from the nerve in the toe to get to our brain for the final ouch. That analogy helps us understand the nature of a near real-time system of messages to help us avoid pain in daily operations. The typical healthcare provider has dozens of healthcare applications, outside vendors and even medical devices that produce HL7 messages. Those HL7 messages are the key to developing a digital nervous system for healthcare providers and creating a real interoperability backbone between multiple clinical systems and the decision-making process.

The challenge is the development of the nervous system that carries these messages from the point of origination to all of the places needed by the whole organization. Keeping with our analogy, we need a spinal cord to carry the messages to the brain for decisions. In addition, there is a need in a nervous system for feedback loops when there is a critical message. The brain has little to do with the decision to immediately draw back a hand touching a hot stove – it is a quick response. In a healthcare environment, there are often messages that need that same type of immediate response to avoid an adverse reaction and protect patient safety.

One successful approach to developing this digital nervous system of HL7 messages supporting the decision-making process is to create an Integration Competency Center for your organization. The focus of this organization would start with data acquisition – determining where HL7 messages originate, also called data providers. The second step would be to create integration or interoperability maps for the acquired HL7 transactions – where is data coming from and going to? Finally, the last step would be to determine the data consumers – those who want to subscribe to the information for decision-making. Granted this view is simple, however it is fundamental to creating sophisticated decision support systems in near real-time environments. The tools and technology exist to implement this HL7 message backbone today, and it’s time to tie the nervous system together for decision support.

Another aspect of a digital nervous system is keeping a history of these HL7 messages as they flow across the digital backbone on the way to decisions. This message history provides a clear audit trail of the events leading up to a decision for a medical provider – in the same fashion as a review of a paper chart. This historical view creates confidence in the decision-making process and instills trust. It’s always nice to be able to review information both make decisions and validate them as well.

Here’s the question: does your organization need to take advantage of the HL7 messages created by your healthcare applications, outside sources and medical devices? Then now is a good time to organize the digital nervous system with an Integration Competency Center. Put a focused team of business analysts, IT personnel and decision-makers in a room and build the digital backbone to make your decision-making process factual and trustworthy.

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Martin Sizemore

Enterprise Architect with specialized skills in Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Consultant and a trusted advisor to Chief Executive Officers, COOs, CIOs and senior managers for global multi-national companies and healthcare organizations. Deep industry experience as a consultant in manufacturing, healthcare and financial services industries. Broad knowledge of IBM hardware and software offerings with numerous certifications and recognitions from IBM including On-Demand Computing and SOA Advisor. Experienced with Microsoft general software products and architecture, including Sharepoint and SQL Server. Deep technical skills in system integration, system and software selection, data architecture, data warehousing and infrastructure design including virtualization.

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