The Coming IT Health Care Integration Challenge

Michael Vizard
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As the health care industry continues to go electronic, the challenges that many IT organizations in this sector will face will increasingly involve integration issues.

Within the health care sector, the dominant integration standard for the system is the Health Level 7 (HL7) interface. As more electronic health care systems go online, there will be a need to integrate these systems with existing legacy health care systems that depend heavily on HL7 interfaces for any type of integration.

According to Eliot Muir, president of Interfaceware, a company the specializes in IT health care integration projects, HL7 is not going to go away anytime soon given the proliferation of these health care systems that use this interface to talk to each other. To that end, Interfaceware recently released version 4.5 of its Iguana HL7 engine, which adds FTP support, faster log searches, alerts and expanded message routing.

Where things in the near future will get interesting from an integration perspective is how much pressure there will be on providers of health care systems to support more general-purpose integration technologies, such as RESTful APIs.

Health care systems for years have been fairly proprietary in nature. These systems still dominate the health care industry, and, as such, there is a requirement for HL7 interfaces to communicate with them. But at the same time, these systems will increasingly need to be integrated with supply chain systems and any number of Web applications. That will put a fair amount of pressure on the health care industry to start using general purpose application integration technologies.

Like any change related to health care, new integration technologies will take years to work their way into health care systems, so HL7 interfaces are not going away anytime soon.

But if the end goal is to reduce the cost of health care, then eventually the cost of integration will become an issue. And once it does, chances are the health care industry is probably going to have to come into line with general purpose integration technologies that are already widely deployed across every other major IT environment simply because the number of people who know how to leverage those technologies will far exceed the number of people who know how to invoke an HL7 interface.

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