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8 Stages in an HL7 Interface Lifecycle

By jeanluc.morin@caristix.com | Published: October 5th, 2010

While clinical end-users count on interfaces to deliver the functionality and interoperability they need, IT stakeholders need to be sure everyone involved gets the steps and costs involved. Especially since interfacing takes up 20 to 40% of an implementation project timeline. Here’s a quick overview to get everyone on the same page.

HL7 Interface Lifecycle

HL7 Interface Lifecycle

Scoping

  • An interface analyst scopes the interfacing project.
  • The analyst performs a gap analysis based on the client’s current information system environment and the new system to be implemented. The gap analysis guides the conformance profile that defines the interface.
  • Once the gap analysis is complete, the client, the vendor, and potential third parties sign off on who does what.
  • When handled manually, scoping can be a major bottleneck in an implementation project. Vendors seeking to eliminate process waste need to seek out automation avenues. Gap analysis software can cut 30 to 50% off the scoping timeline.

Coding and Configuration

  • An interface programmer uses the conformance profile and other documentation (such as database mapping) to code and/or configure the interface.
  • Interfaces used to take weeks and months to code. With today’s tools, you can get it done in a few days or weeks, so this stage is rarely a bottleneck in the lifecycle of an HL7 interface.

Simulation Testing

  • The programmer or analyst validates the interface against sample — read simulated — messages. Once the interface can successfully send and/or receive simulated messages under test conditions, it is shipped to the client site for integration testing.
  • The Simulation Testing step represents industry best practice. Providers should ensure that vendors put the interface through its paces before integration testing. Ask to see sample test documentation before signing off on the implementation project approval. Good simulation testing can avoid a whole lot of headaches during go-live and after.

Client Validation

  • An analyst at the client site validates the interface in a test system against specific clinical scenarios using pre-configured test data.
  • Important: you want to avoid using production systems and protected patient information during the validation stage.
  • The scope of client validation can vary greatly, depending on the project and on provider IT culture. Organizations that invest in thorough validation see payoffs with smoother go-lives, less downtime, and fewer calls to their vendor tech support teams down the road.

Go-Live

  • The new system then goes live.
  • Vendors and providers monitor the interface intensely at this point, in order to fix issues as they arise.
  • Some interface engines come with built-in monitoring tools with real-time alerts, so staff on call (on both provider and vendor teams) can proactively fix issues before they impact clinician end-users.

Monitoring

  • After go-live, provider IT teams need to ensure the interface continues working as expected.
  • Monitoring tools (some come built in to interface engines) help ensure issues are flagged.

Support and Maintenance

  • The interface needs to be supported, just like the information systems they link.
  • Vendors rely on HL7 troubleshooting tools for parsing messages and looking for problem segments. The problem is, most of these tools are built for interface programmers and engineers, not front-line tech support. An emerging industry best practice is to ensure that front-line support teams have troubleshooting tools that don’t require extensive HL7 knowledge. This can avoid expensive issue escalation and decrease customer response time.

Upgrade

  • When a system that receives or sends data through the interface is changed, the interface needs changing as well. This triggers a new scoping stage.

Have you uncovered practices that enable faster time to go-live or more efficient support? Let us know in the comments.

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