Healthcare standards

Infoway can help solve your standards woes

By Rosie Lombardi

Healthcare IT standards like DICOM, HL7, and IHE are often touted as the best way to connect the medley of systems used in hospitals and healthcare regions today. Also in the mix is SNOMED CT, an important healthcare IT standard that can be used for clinical decision support and reporting. But what if you’re having trouble getting one of these standards to work? Who you gonna call?

Try Canada Health Infoway (Infoway). They’ve developed years of expertise in health information standards, and they’re ready and willing to help solve your problems.

When technologists or clinicians are stymied by a standards conundrum, “They can call our help line,” says Don Sweete, who leads Infoway’s Standards Collaborative. “We’ll have them explain their issue and then try to resolve it.”

Although calling your vendor is likely to be your first impulse, vendors don’t own standards and they don’t always have skills in this area. “For example,” asserts Sweete, “hospitals often have vendors load SNOMED CT, which is one of the best standards globally, into their systems. But SNOMED CT can be implemented in the system in a very general way, to capture high-level coded data, or it can be very granular.”

It may be faster and cheaper for hospitals to handle the standards fixes themselves, with Infoway’s help. “Hospitals may go to the vendor and say, SNOMED CT has released a new version of their standard and it entails X number of changes. How much is it going to cost to update our system? And the vendor may come back and say it will take six months and large amounts of money.”

Vendors also don’t have the broad national experience and international connections that Infoway has, he adds. “We deal with all these problems across the country, and if we don’t have the experience, we are the liaison for Canada to international organizations.”

Launched in 2006, the Standards Collaborative is a group within Infoway that maintains and publishes health information standards, and provides implementation and support services to members. People who join are connected with work groups and forums, get the latest news about the standards that Infoway supports, and can use them in the solutions they develop.

Equally important is that they get a voice and a say in standards development. “You can participate in the balloting of standards to be used in Canada,” says Sweete. “You become part of the conversation on what the standards are going to look like.”

Membership is not just for vendors, IT staff and technologists. Clinicians are actively involved, as they’re keenly interested in seeing how standards help improve the flow of information. In the end, seamlessly connected information systems produce better workflows in their hospitals and clinics. It also makes their research much easier. And it produces better outcomes for their patients.

To encourage greater participation in the use and development of health information standards, last year Infoway changed its Standards Collaborative membership model to reduce any potential barriers. As a result, membership has jumped from 250 to about 450.

Infoway now offers a two-tiered model. General membership is offered at no cost – it’s designed for people who are interested in learning about standards, such as students and clinicians.

The premium membership – available for a modest fee – allows people to download and use the standards within their IT solutions. “This also includes implementation support and other services that we offer,” adds Sweete.

“From eHealth Ontario’s perspective, Canada Health Infoway’s Standards Collaborative program is critical,” says Peter Bascom, vice president of architecture and standards at eHealth Ontario. “Standards are the building blocks of electronic health records.”

Adds Bascom: “The Standards Collaborative program provides us with access to national and international standards and technical supporting tools. It enables us to contribute to the development of standards for Ontario’s use – standards that are recognized and maintained nationally and internationally. The program also ensures that the most up-to-date standards are available for Ontario’s electronic health record.”

To learn more the benefits of SC Membership, please visit www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/programs-services/standards-collaborative/membership.

Posted June 27
, 2013