This is our last tip in the Interoperability Tip Series. Read the entire series here.
The fact is that the value of your interface-related artifacts increases over time. While they’re useful for development and go-live, they are essential down the road, in a year or two or more. Follow the 4 best practices for extracting maximum value from your artifacts and get the most from them.
1. Work with real-world messages.
When you’re developing deliverables such as profiles, it’s important to start with real-world messages for reasons we covered earlier on HL7 interface specifications. You will refer back to these deliverables over and over throughout the interface life cycle. If you start with placeholders or fictitious information, you’ll struggle when it comes time to troubleshoot issues.
2. Share your work. Share your artifacts.
Encourage diligence in documenting all aspects of your interface project. Consider a common scenario – the interface project wraps up and a key analyst or engineer leaves your organization. You want the new employee to be able to easily take over for the departing employee. And that means having all related documentation on hand. This practice helps in another way: by documenting what changes have been made to the interface over time, it’s much easier to quickly troubleshoot any issue. And keep an on-going to-do list, especially around gap analysis as this will help you better approach maintenance tasks. Make it easy for people to share their work and documentation. Use SharePoint, or look for collaboration functionality in the software you purchase.
3. Archive your work.
Upgrades and updates to the interface engine will happen. You don’t want to get stuck being the victim of Frozen Interface Syndrome, which occurs when you are trying to implement a new interface and need all participants to switch over at the same time but can’t get their cooperation. You also want to avoid Black Box Syndrome, when you lack full visibility into all the work that has gone into interface development handled by a third party, making it nearly impossible to upgrade, tweak, and manage the interface without spending lots of money and time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you won’t need certain documentation in the future. In fact, you’ll probably re-use it for your next project or for an interface or system update.
4. Understand content management.
Effective documentation requires that you think beyond message structure and troubleshooting. You need to think about clinical content and how it changes over time. For example, lab orders have their own codes and these codes get updated over time. You want ready access to the most up-to-date list as needed. And you need them reflected in your HL7 tables. That means you need to plan from the start how you’ll map the code sets to the right fields and build that into your interface and the system at go-live.