Laying the Foundation for Interoperability

Tip 5 in the Interoperability Tip Series

9 Critical Questions You Need to Ask Your Clinical System and Interface Vendors

Like our last two tips, this week’s tip is geared to hospital teams asking their vendors the right questions. Vendors who are on the ball will have the answers at their fingertips.

Why Should Health System Leadership Care About This?

foundation for interoperabilityThese lay the foundation for interoperability. They are the basic format and content scoping questions that kick off each and every interfacing project. Your teams will work with your vendors to answer these questions for every system they work with. Your managers will be tracking answers, and the quality of the information they get will impact risk, timelines, and costs.

1.    “Who provides the hardware, if any?”

When you implement a new EHR or clinical system, validate it doesn’t need extra hardware for data exchange. You want to find out about hidden costs.  

2.    “What standard does your system use for data exchange? HL7? Which HL7 2.x version are you using?”

These questions lay the groundwork for the next one.

3.    “Can you supply a list of customizations you made to the HL7 v2.x standard you are using?”

While most vendors will claim they deviated very little from the standard, you will probably find they deviated in several ways (custom messages, Z-segments, customized data types, customized code sets, etc). The longer the list of customizations, the longer and more risky the project.

4.    “Within your HL7 2.x based interface, can you tell me which elements and values are configurable?”

You need the details. If they can’t provide details on configurability, you might be facing a longer test cycle than anticipated. Trial-and-error interface validation can slow down implementation. 

5.    “When you send us the interface spec for sign-off, do we get a fully documented list of gaps and exceptions for specific data values and data elements?”

You want a full list, or you’ll be facing a lengthy validation process, waiting for super-users and clinical testers to flag bugs in the test system.   

6.    “Will you provide a list of the interface customizations you create for us?”

No interface specification works perfectly out of the box; it has to be customized to your environment. Keep this list for troubleshooting and maintenance, or risk extra downtime. 

7.    “How do you document changes and upgrades throughout the lifecycle of the interface? Do you automatically provide us with updated documentation?”

If there’s anything worse than missing documentation, it’s partial or out-of-date documentation. What you get at go-live will not be usable two years out. Make sure the responsibility for documentation updates is clearly spelled out. 

8.    “Does the interface you built contain any intellectual property?

This is crucial! Validate if a license will apply to the code and you will own the interface – or if the vendor will own it. If the vendor owns it, you might need to pay big bucks in licensing fees if you ever need to access that feed. 

9.    “How guaranteed is message delivery? Does each message get an “acknowledge” (ACK) or “no acknowledge” (NACK) reply?”

This is part of the HL7 standard and is an important piece of the message delivery process as you cannot guarantee the message was delivered without it.

How to Use Caristix Software to Get Answers

Laying the foundation for interoperability, these are the questions that Caristix Workgroup software organizes for analysts and developers. By creating specs automatically from messages, the software helps vendors provide answers with little to no manual work, while enabling provider teams to get interfaces into production faster. We think it’s a win-win for both vendors and providers.

Download the HL7 Survival Guide

Download the HL7 Survival Guide