11/17/2008 | RESOURCES

Ai’s lightweight HL7 Engine

HL7 is a ubiquitous healthcare messaging standard. When two Healthcare IT systems need to communicate with one another in a standard way, most of the time they use HL7 message formats and communication protocols to do so. The HL7 standard has a fair bit of built-in flexibility that allows it to work in different functional scenarios, but this flexibility comes at a price. Generally speaking, two systems that both support HL7 standards cannot talk to each other directly because of the differences in interpretation and usage of the standard, among other factors. This necessitates that the message going from system A to system B be changed (transformed) appropriately so it is suitable for consumption.

An Interface Engine or an Enterprise Integration Engine, a software product that helps with the transformation and tracking of messages when they go from any one system to another, is required to open the channel of communication. On the market today, there are a few Enterprise Integration platforms from large software vendors that support the HL7 standard for use in high-cost integration scenarios. There are also some healthcare industry-specific Interface Engines that support HL7 standards and serve large- and medium-size healthcare enterprises.

These systems, however, are cost prohibitive for small healthcare providers (such as small clinics and doctors’ offices). This makes it difficult for these smaller providers to integrate their systems and prohibits their participation in any health information exchange (HIE) efforts. Additionally, healthcare-focused software developers are frustrated by the lack of a lightweight and inexpensive HL7 messaging tool that helps with development and testing. In some cases, even though a heavyweight enterprise integration system is available, it would be faster and more convenient to use something lightweight for simple HL7 messaging work.

There is clearly a need for a lightweight HL7 messaging engine or tool that facilitates the integration of healthcare systems and is available to the developer community for free. Such a tool has the potential to lower the bar for participation in a local or national health information exchange, thereby helping to revolutionize the flow of data across the healthcare continuum and ultimately lower costs and improve patient safety.

The AI HL7 Engine is designed to meet some of these immediate low-cost integration needs. It is deployed in production to serve specific integration needs at various healthcare organizations, including some hospitals. The AI HL7 Engine is also lightweight, fast, and easy to maintain. It provides a flexible plug-in architecture to perform the message transformation function. The engine takes care of transport, message monitoring, and logging functions, leaving to developers the task of writing simple plug-ins to take care of the transformation. It is written using the Microsoft .Net platform and only supports plug-ins developed in .Net