Canadian health-care groups endorse IT standard

Canada is the latest country to join a worldwide movement to make the flow of health-care information from multiple sources as seamless as possible.

Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise Canada is the local chapter of an organization that already has roots in the U.S., Europe and Japan.


in the Canadian organization include Canada Health Infoway, the Canadian Association of Radiologists, the Canadian Healthcare Information Technology Trade Association, Ecole de Technologie Superieure, HIMSS Ontario, ITAC and the Ontario Hospital eHealth Council.

The IHE initiative would ensure that information coming from many different sources, including computers, diagnostic machines, X-ray equipment and patient monitoring systems, would essentially speak the same language.

“”The objective ultimately is that as global interoperative standards are adopted among vendors and care organizations, (we) ensure continuity of care,”” said Sam Marafioti, CIO of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “”What that will do is allow for the seamless transfer of information or images, making that information comprehensive at any point of care so the clinicians are always working with the complete picture related to patient information and are not therefore dependent on systems that cannot connect.””

Radiology and imaging products are now virtually all designed to the digital imaging and communications in medicine (DICOM) standard, and the health level 7 standard for data formatting is already largely universal, Marafioti said. However the IHE standard for IT products would provide the missing piece of the puzzle in terms of IT interoperability.

Marafioti said he hopes vendors start to see getting the IHE seal as essential to their business as getting the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) seal of approval.

That will happen, he said, as vendors begin manufacturing their products to the IHE standard. Every year, he explained, there are two or three “”connectathons”” at which vendors demonstrate their products. “”These are usually large conferences at which totally different vendor systems using the IHE seal can in fact immediately interoperate without any labour or significant cost,”” he said.

But while the adoption of the IHE standard will make the concept of plug and play much more of a reality in the health-care sector, according to Canada Health Infoway Inc. chief technology officer Dennis Giokas, it’s important that IHE Canada make the process of adapting to the standard as easy as possible for vendors.

“”There is a significant cost in developing standards. So we need to work in a collaborative way to create the same definitions of business requirements — and ultimately the standards — so it will save us money on the public sector side,”” said Giokas. “”But I’m just as sensitive to the private sector side as well, in that they need to adopt these standards and there’s a cost to doing business there. And that cost is passed on in the cost of sales.””

Giokas said CHI hopes to create a pan-Canadian marketplace for vendors so they can adopt the IHE standard and sell their products throughout Canada in a common way.

“”Once you have the standards, that’s half the problem — you now have to string these together to solve real world business problems and that’s one of the things we think IHE brings to the table,”” he said.

But IHE Canada shouldn’t worry about meeting with opposition from vendors, said ITAC president Bernard Courtois.

“”It’s not being imposed on them in any way,”” he said. “”When they want to ensure their product or solution meets the requirements, there are arrangements made for them to get their solution tested and get confirmation that it complies. That obviously is a great advantage to them when they go to sell their solution to the hospitals.””

Once vendors’ systems are better able to interoperate, he said, they will also be better able to show health-care IT buyers the benefits of their investments, which is difficult to do in the current environment.

According to Marafioti, the first year of the initiative will be spent getting the word out to the health-care provider and vendor communities.

“”Beginning in Year 2 I would expect to see some actual IHE implementations in real life.””


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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