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Devices and Prizes

Publication date: Nov 22, 2008

HL7 Germany had a booth this week at the Medica trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany. We had quite a lot of discussions with medical device vendors.

The Medica is among the largest healthcare trade shows worldwide. The 4,300 exhibitors participating at Medica presented the complete spectrum of new products, services and processes for use in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals. There were 137,000 registered visitors in 4 days.

HL7 Germany has never had a booth during this trade show given the associated costs. This time around they were able to share a booth with DIMDI, a german organization responsible for the maintanance and use of medical terminologies. A good match: terminologies and data structures (HL7) jointly form the basis for semantic interoperability.

HL7 Germany booth at Medica 2008; Kai Heitmann, René Spronk, Sylvia Thun (from left to right)

Given that around 40% of all visitors are from outside of Germany we also had some discussions with those visitors. This always introduces an interesting dilemma: being HL7 Germany, we have no marketing materials in English. This year we had multiple visitors from the Middle East who were wondering why there is no HL7 organization in the Middle East. A lot of hospitals in Egypt, the Gulf states, Oman and Saudi Arabia are using HL7; vendors are implementing it, yet there is no affiliate organization. HL7 may have to play the role of catalyst to help establish an "HL7 Middle East" (e.g. located in Dubai or Oman). It would certainly help if HL7 were to be present at Arabhealth to both promote the use of HL7, and to establish a regional affiliate.


Given that the Medica covers almost all aspects of healthcare we noticed that a large majority of our talks was with medical devices vendors (e.g. POCT analyzers, operating room planning systems, audiological equipment, precision scale). Their customers are increasingly asking for HL7 version 2 interfaces. The medical device vendors have some hesitations about the creation of messaging interfaces: it's a new area for them, and they're worried they'll have to create a different messaging interface for each customer. The customization of such interfaces, if one has 1000s of customers all around the world, is a real problem.

There are typically two scenario's when it comes to the integration of devices using HL7 v2:

  1. An order message is sent to the device; a result is generated and sent as a message
  2. The patient ID (or specimen ID) is entered into the device (manually, RFID, barcode) and the administrative system is queried for the full demographic data of the patient; a result is generated and sent as a message
Fortunately there are a few starting points that offer a solid basis as to what they should be implementing: the IHE Laboratory framework contains workflow descriptions for a variety of Laboratory devices (including POCT devices).

Another thing which greatly assists the device vendors is the availability of HL7 toolkits which offer them a programming API. The details of the v2 message encoding are hidden.


Once every year the HL7 organization awards a prize to the "volunteers of the year". This year (in Vancouver, Canada) we had a international mix of volunteers of the year: Canada (Jane Howarth), Argentina (Diego Kaminker), U.K. (Charlie McCay), U.S. (Sue Mitchell), and the Netherlands (yup, that's me). This again shows the international nature of the HL7 organization.

Rene Spronk (and fellow volunteers) receive the HL7 volunteer of the year award

The above image shows the volunteers of the year (and Ed Hammond - the HL7 chair, wearing a Canadian shirt), each with a "blue vase" (officially: the "W.Ed Hammond Volunteer of the Year award"). It'll be interesting to see who'll be receiving the award next year.


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Ringholm bv is a group of European experts in the field of messaging standards and systems integration in healthcare IT. We provide the industry's most advanced training courses and consulting on healthcare information exchange standards.
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