Article: SOA in Healthcare

by Thomas Bandholtz on Mar 10, 2008 |

In a new InfoQ article about SOA in Healthcare, the authors go beyond the average use case description for several reasons.

First of all, the four authors from Intel are writing with real people in mind (patients, nurses, doctors, etc.) who are “sharing data across a community”. Going through the daily processes of a clinic by examples results in an observation that many readers may have eye witnessed themselves: “The nurse is providing the interoperability” – so: is it SOA for the nurses?

The status quo in health care systems is a little more complex than just another legacy data integration spaghetti. First obvious difference from the common customer-order-billing story: in healthcare it is a common situation that not the “customer” pays for the treatment but a third party (insurance). So is it something like a car dealer’s garage business? In some part yes. However, unlike most businesses healthcare is exceptionally regulated and cross-organizational: “A healthcare information network (HIN) is a collaboration among the government, hospitals, specialty labs and pharmacies, as well as insurance agencies (payers)”.

As participants come from rather different domains, solutions need to standardize standards, namely the varied interpretation of (sectoral) agreements (here: Health Level 7 in the US). As the basis of any succesful cooperation a “canonical data representation of the SOA core business service” will have to unite loose coupling with semantic interoperability. This includes medical vocabulary translation and unifying various extensions of patients’ electronic medical records (EMR).

All this makes evident that “establishing a HIN of scale using point-to-point integration architectures is not viable from a cost standpoint”. This is also known from different application areas, but in this case the proposed bus architecture goes beyond the enterprise scale. The “Health Information Exchange Bus” comes along with an outsourced, hosted utility model that provides integration services for inhomogeneous participants. Each of them can establish orchestrated workflows across the network.

The article is an excerpt from their book Service Oriented Architecture Demystified, which is supposed to go into more detail and beyond the healthcare use case. For example, the article does not discuss the Key Organizational Shifts of a HIN, where interoperability is no longer provided by the nurses. It only adumbrates the Service Portfolio Planning Process of cross-organizational stakeholders. 

The article is a pleasure to read by itself: it is all about people and their scattered semantics and about how they can benefit from a SOA that opens organizational blinkers. And finally somehow it is also about healthcare demystified. Take a printout to your doctor’s waiting room next time!

Check out the full article here.

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