Implementation FAQ:Interface Development

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This page contains questions and recommendations related to the architecture of the implementation.

NOTE: this page will undergo a major update; most of the current information is over 4 years old.

The following pages contain up to date guidance when it comes to the implementation of v3:

See also Implementation FAQ:processing v3 schema with standard tools

Back to Implementation FAQ

Questions

Performance in large volume environments. There are two dimensions to this:

  1. sheer quantity of messages being sent
  2. the complexity (in time and space) of processing each message.

(Ann Wrightson, CSW, Feb.2005) the latter issue is the main killer problem; it's not just that more hardware or time is needed, but large & complex-structured messages (as occur easily in full-dumps) can break common XML tooling.

Strategies for (2) include:

  • Without changing the XML
    • cut-down non-validating processing banking on (hopefully justified) assumptions about the uniform structure of this pack of messages
    • more respectable variant of previous: use an alternate simpler schema that happens to validate a set of instances that fit the datstream & also conform to the target HL7-compliant schema (this is v. useful but also dangerous as this relationship between schemas is not possible to prove & difficult even to check informally)
  • Changing the XML, en route or at source
    • inbound translation to a more tractable XML format before the messages hit the performance bottleneck
    • more flexible component-based generation of (messages and) schemas from models, with more (model-driven, parameterized) variation allowed in naming of elements (see next but one point below)
    • firmer control of complexity in the XML from an XML processing point of view (even some metrics?)
    • naming of elements strongly favoured over parameters for identifying the nature of element content (it takes one logical-look at the XML per element to filter out elements of type XZ; it takes two logical-looks & more processing to find those of type X with attribute Y having value Z

Recommendations

Create site-specific use-cases and storyboards

Document the existing workflows and business rules before choosing what HL7 v3 artefacts to implement. This could be done in the form of unstructured examples of existing data transports. These can subsequently be mapped to existing HL7 v3 artefacts. The mapping between business-events and HL7-events is often not a 1 to 1 relationship. This should be the first step in *any* implementation; it precedes the development of applications and interfaces. Actors: business experts, domain experts, messaging specialists and software architects.

Support OIDs/UUIDs within the application

Don't try to map local codes to other code sets in the integration layer. Only the generation of non-persistent object identifiers can be outsourced to middleware. OIDs/UUIDs (or shorter proxies linked thereto) have to be supported by the database of the core application. OIDs/UUIDs are new for most implementers/vendors an may have a significant impact on the application.

Related issue: length of OIDs/UUIDs (theoretically there is no maximum length). Rene spronk 09:11, 26 Jun 2006 (CDT)
Related issue: it's a sure sign implementers haven't understood the concept of OIDs (i.e. why they are of importance) if one sees implementations that use the exact same OIDs as contained in example messages provided with the documentation. Rene spronk 09:11, 26 Jun 2006 (CDT)

Multi version support in the application

Do allow for the support of multiple model-versions at the same time; not just in terms of transformations of the intermediate XML based format, but also in terms of database structure and application functionality. Create application behaviours which can be easily changed/upgraded/switched.

Adopt HL7 v3-like models within the application

Create a static model for your database - for that is what you're communicating about. In as far as possile the physical data model of your application should follow the HL7-models. This doesn't mean one should implement the RIM or v3 models as a database structure (although you might follow it selectively), indeed it is unlikely that a interoperability architecture is directly appropriate for use as an application architecture, but there should be a strong and actively maintained relationship between them. The important point is to have a clear mapping from the physical data model onto the logical data model (e.g. D-MIM, R-MIM), and from the triggers used by the application to those used in the interfaces.

This is especially true when one is developing an entirely new application. Using information models defined by standards (e.g. HL7 RIM) as a starting point (a) makes messaging easier, (b) re-uses the tremendous modeling effort and review has gone into their development (i.e. hundreds of man/years). Your application’s information model will generally be a superset of the standard Message Information Models.
Also see Implementation aspects of RIM based database models.

Migrate to unified Identification schemes

For the identification of for key entities such as patients, providers, organizations, aim to use 1 identification scheme over time. This may require that one starts to use (national) identifications as primary keys, without assigning application specific identifiers to these entities.


Receiving artefacts is much more difficult than sending them

Getting the semantics right on the receiving end, especially for Clinical Statement based HL7 v3 artefacts, takes a lot of effort. Make sure to get a detailed specification and lots of examples from the sending side.

Be careful not to 'invent' or imply information that is not in the message. Try to keep in mind whether re-transmitting the converted data would result in the same (or semantically equivalent) message.

Logging of transmissions

A robust tracking and logging system, which logs everything (including wrappers etc.) that which is actually send/received is crucial.

You should note that v3 messages are larger than their v2 counterparts, so message logs will also be bigger. This will impact storage requirements for for logs. Tools that allow analysts to browse message logs will take longer to load the larger logs. You will definitely notice this with high volume interfaces.

Rollback the process if message fails

If a real-time interaction fails (after timeout) roll-back the message and the transaction; and ask user to repeat the action later. Use an in-sequence reliable delivery method to minimize transactional issues.

Keep synchronization of data under control

Make sure to think about the process of keeping the data synchronized. This requires that one supports various synchronization methods in HL7 (snapshot, update mode). The queuing of updates by various parties if the network is down has to be taken care of. Increase your reliance on queries; they ensure you have the latest data.

Consistent OID use when migrating data

Ensure that all Identifiers (including identification of the ID schemes) are persisted when migrating data from one application to another one. "Renumbering" (changing the identifier of objects) can only be done if the original IDs are linked to the new ones. Systems other than the one whose data is being migrated may have stored identifiers (e.g. of clinical data, for later reference). These identifiers have to be persisted, or the object effectively won't be available anymore. In short: persist current identifiers, do not use a renumbering scheme nor change the OID of the identification scheme.

Order in Names and Addresses

When parsing a XML ITS based instance of a v3 artefact, please keep in mind that there are a few datatypes in v3 where the order of the elements is of importance (e.g. names, addresses). This effectively precludes you from using things like XPath expressions. A small snippet of custom code is required to correctly parse them. Note that the "mixed content, ordered" nature of names and addresses is a result from the definition of the underlying abstract datatypes and not just of the XML ITS.

Data Type: NullFlavors

Given that HL7 stresses the importance of semantics, NullFlavors can be used in almost all datatypes. If the use of a nullFlavour has not been explicitely disallowed in the standard or in the applicable implementation guide, then one has to take care to develop the code to deal with the receipt of nullFlavours. Receiving a nullFlavour essentially means having to "throw an exception" to handle it.

Obsolete CDA Documents

When CDA documents become obsolete, (by reason of context) all data which may have been extracted from that document (e.g. Level 3 constructs) become obsolete.

The fact that a document has become obsolete/nullified may be conveyed by various mechanisms, e.g. a medical records message. Consideration should be given if, and how, any data known to be derived from that document should be dealt with. A recommendation may be given in the forthcoming CDA Release 3 specification.


fill the blanks transforms

V3 startup for implementers can be done by creating “fill the blanks” transforms.

This is very pragmatic. I'm not aware that this approach is being addressed in any of the implementation oriented Tutorial. It probably needs to be discussed, as quick-and-dirty implementation methods tend to be used more than theoretically flawless implementations... Rene spronk 12:59, 21 May 2006 (CDT)
This is how I do start-using-V3 implementation tutorials - to do this at home, get Michael Kay's XSLT Programmers Reference (and it would be crazy to even try and spell XSLT without a copy of this on your desk). It has a section on fill-in-the-blanks stylesheets. You take a fully populated message - top and tail it to turn it into a stylesheet, then replace each of the data items with <xsl:value-of ...> or the same wrapped in an <xsl:for-each ...>. This gets you to a working transform from internal XML to hl7v3 XML in very short order. At this stage you sit back and feel good. You then need to extend it with some <xsl:if ...> conditionals to deal with the bits that the example did not cover. Annother glow of achievement. Then work out what to do about the bits that the HL7v3 message needed, but were not in your internal XML. These items should have been identified as you went through filling in the blanks - with big red warnings in the output. Then you have a working output. Pat on the back from other people now, and a chance to read some more of the XSLT Programmers Reference for ideas about how to make the transform modular and do other fancy stuff. Charliemccay 04:35, 2 Jun 2006 (CDT)

Note: If you are working with XSLT you need to define an intermediate XML format for your data. This can be in "close to HL7" form or in "close to native" form. It's normally sensible to quickly export your data in a near-native format, and then encapsulate just the HL7 specifics in the XSLT. This means you can target various HL7 messages from the same intermediate file format by varying only the transform. See Implementation FAQ:Interface Development for details.

Another thing to bear in mind is that error handling is very tricky in XSL. XSLT tends to be a one-shot process that either succeeds or fails, and it isn't easy to recover from error conditions or interact with the user in the middle. It's often best to deal with any likely exceptions in procedural code when targetting your intermediate format, and do just the final rendering into HL7 in the XSLT. Rik Smithies 22:09, 7 Jun 2006 (BST)
You can get around using XSLT by using template engines, in particular if you want to fill in the blanks directly from your domain model and not from a intermediate XML format. The principle is the same, you just don't use <xsl:> tags but the ones provided by the template engine, which often supports OGNL syntax. I made good experience with Velocity (Java specific), that also supports all kind of control statements, loops, ifs, and extensions e.g. in order to fill in the current timestamp. And, you can use the same mechanism to create v2 messages, as its not restricted to XML in any way.Christian.ohr 05:46, 22 September 2006 (CDT)