Deadlines are fast approaching for U.S. Healthcare institutions to implement electronic health record (EHR) systems that meet the requirements of the Healthcare Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Many organizations are still struggling with how to integrate new applications with legacy healthIT systems.
HealthIT applications leverage the Healthcare Layer Seven standards to provide a protocol as the default standard for this type of integration. HL7 refers to a set of international standards for transfer of clinical and administrative data between Hospital information systems. These standards focus on the application layer, which is “layer 7” in the OSI model. The existence of the HL7 protocol doesn’t mean that integrating these systems will be easy.
1. What Systems Need to Be Integrated?
One of the facts of life in IT, healthcare or otherwise, is that if two or more systems are tracking the same information, eventually they will disagree if they are not tightly integrated. EHR systems vendors will typically argue that you should retire your legacy systems and migrate everything to their “new solution”. However, there are often practical reasons to keep systems separate. Having visibility and control over all of the systems in your network can ensure high availability of these systems.
2. How Tightly Integrated Should They Be?
Once you identify the systems that you want to integrate you then need to decide how the integrations should be designed. Having a detailed map of your network and the systems residing on it can aid in this process. Leveraging your network strategically with a unified interoperable management console can aid in this process.
3. Are the Systems HL7-Compliant?
After the integration requirements are determined, the next hurdle is to determine which, if any, of the affected healthcare IT systems is HL7-compliant. Many legacy systems were not designed with interoperability in mind. However, a unified network management console can help to mitigate that and get all systems speaking the same HL7 language.
4. Is Your Network as a Strategic Asset?
When integrating unlike systems it is important that you understand the importance of the network that these systems run on. Without a strategically designed network it becomes increasingly difficult to not only integrate HL7 systems, but also to insure that those systems will stay in compliance. Your network should do more than just pass packets; your network must provide visibility into layer 7 of the OSI model in order to ensure that your systems can work together. Often overlooked are areas of troubleshooting. Typically the application group will say that the interface isn’t responding. Look beyond traditional network tools and leverage the network as a strategic asset. With network and application layer analytics
you can see whether a device is online and what type of traffic is flowing through it, understanding what is normal traffic and what is not.
Keeping these key questions in mind can guide a healthcare organization down the right path to an integrated system environment.