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Timezones in HL7

Publication date: Jan 23, 2004

Whilst travelling in New Zealand, one notices a clear trend that has spread from some the booming Far-Eastern economies: internet gaming at all hours of the day by groups of mostly very young users. As a tourist one can find ample internet shops here, where for a sum of EUR 1 to EUR 3 one can surf the web, read some e-mail or play a game for an hour.

Increasingly the main business of these places is gaming. Imagine a room full of PCs, typically with multiple groups of 4 to 10 gamers playing some kind of joint shoot-'m-up game whilst shouting to each other related to the state of play or the fact that they have just killed another player off. The price list on the wall informs you that upon request they will even remain open all night - so you can play until you drop. There was a report in a local newspaper here related to a father who thought his son was staying with a friend - until he found him sleeping on the floor of a gaming hall the next morning. Having to step over a couple of sleeping youths in order to be able to read your e-mail takes a while to get used to. Internet gaming isn't subject to any particular timezone.

During my stay here one of the Pacific islands north of New Zealand was hit by a cyclone. One of the facts that came up was that the island is in a timezone that is exactly 24 hours behind New Zealand. So the time of day is exactly the same, but it's yesterday. This baffles the rational mind. Having the international dateline in such close proximity has other strange effects: In a couple of days I'll be leaving for the US, where my plane will land 8 hours before it took off, even though it's a 12 hour flight. (Huh?)

Recently I was asked if we should make it mandatory for European users of the HL7 messaging standard to include a timezone whenever they include a date/time in a message. Given that healthcare is currently still localized to individual countries, and that Europe contains no countries (except for Russia) that have multiple timezones my response was that we're not ready to do so: we're not used to thinking in timezones, nor do our systems support it.

Whatever timezone you're in, remember that nighttime is the best time for sleeping; and that there are more comfortable places to sleep than on the floor of an internet gaming shop. But maybe that's just me, I must be getting soft.


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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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