Know your data?

Recently I was reminded of some work we did a number of years ago. It involved a large research database, painstakingly collected over 20 years.

The data was defined across a number of specialisations within a single clinical domain and represented in 83 data dictionaries stored in an Excel spreadsheet.

Data was collected based on a series of questionnaires, and we were told that successive data custodians had, true to human nature, made slight tweaks and updates to the questionnaires on multiple occasions. The data collected was actually evolving!

The only way to view the data was to open each of the 83 spreadsheets, painstakingly, one by one.

We were engaged to create archetypes to represent both the legacy data and the data that the research organisation wished to standardise to take forward.

So the activity of converting these data dictionaries – firstly to archetypes for each clinical concept, and then representing each data dictionary as a template – resulting in considerable insight into the quality and scope of the data that hadn’t been available previously.

For example, the mind map below is an aggregation of the various ways that questions were asked about the topic of smoking.

SmokingInterestingly, what it showed was that no one individual in the organisation had full oversight of the detailed data in all of the data dictionaries.The development of the archetypes effectively provided a cross section of the data focusing on commonality at a clinical concept level and revealed insights into the whole data collection that was a major surprise to the research organisation. It triggered an internal review and major revision of their data.

Some of the issues apparent in this mind map are:

  • A number of questions have been asked in slightly different ways, but with slight semantic variation, thus creating the old ‘apples’ vs ‘pears’ problem when all we wanted was a basket of apples;
  • Often the data is abstracted and recorded in categories, rather than recording the actual, valuable raw data which could be used for multiple purposes, not just he purpose of the rigid categories;
  • Some questions have ‘munged’ two questions together with a single True/False answer, resulting in somewhat ambiguous data; and
  • Some questions are based on fixed intervals of time.

No doubt you will see other issues or have more variations of your own you could share in your systems.

And we have repeatedly seen a number of our clients undergo this same process, where archetypes help to reveal issues with enormously valuable data that had previously been obscured by spreadsheets and the like. The creation of archetypes and re-use of archetypes as consistent patterns for clinical content has an enormous positive impact on the quality of data that is subsequently collected.

And while harmonisation and pattern re-use within one organisation or project can be hard enough, standardisation between organisations or regions or national programs or even internationally has further challenges. It may take a while to achieve broader harmonisation but the benefits of interoperability will be palpable when we get there.

In the meantime the archetypes are a great way to trigger the necessary conversations between the clinicians, domain experts, organisations, vendors and other interested parties – getting a handle on our data is a human issue that needs dialogue and collaboration to solve.

Archetypes are a great way to get a handle on our data.

Technical/Wire…Human/Content

In a comment on one of my most recent posts, Lloyd McKenzie, one of the main authors of the new HL7 FHIR standard made a comment which I think is important in the discourse about whether openEHR archetypes could be utilised within FHIR resources. To ensure it does not remain buried in the rather lengthy comments, I’ve posted my reply here, with my emphasis added.

Hi Lloyd,

This is where we fundamentally differ:
You said: “And we don’t care if the data being shared reflects best practice, worst practice or anything in between.

I do. I care a lot.

High quality EHR data content is a key component of interoperability that has NEVER been solved. It is predominantly a human issue, not a technical one – success will only be achieved with heaps of human interaction and collaboration. With the openEHR methodology we are making some inroads into solving it. But even if archetypes are not the final solution, the models that are publicly available are freely available for others to leverage towards ‘the ultimate solution’.

Conversely, I don’t particularly care what wire format is used to exchange the data. FHIR is the latest of a number of health data exchange mechanisms that have been developed. Hopefully it will be one that is easier to use, more widely implemented and will contribute significantly to improve health data exchange. But ultimately data exchange is a largely technical issue, needs a technical solution and is relatively easy to solve by comparison.

I’m not trying to solve the same problem you are. I have different focus. But I do think that FHIR (and including HL7 more broadly) working together with the openEHR approach to clinical modelling/EHRs could be a pretty powerful combo, if we choose to.

Heather

We need both – quality EHR content AND an excellent technical exchange format. And EHR platforms, CDRs, registries etc. With common clinical archetypes defining the patterns in all of these uses, data can potentially start to flow… and not be blocked and potentially degraded by the current need for transforms, mappings, etc.

To HIMSS12… or bust!

This blog, and hopefully some others following, will be about my thinking and considerations as I man an exhibition booth at the huge HIMSS12 conference for the first time next month…

Well, we’ve committed. We’re bringing some of the key Ocean offerings all across the ocean to HIMSS12 in Las Vegas next month. If it was just another conference, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But this is a seriously daunting prospect for me. I’ve presented papers, organised workshops, and run conference booths in many places over the years – in Sarajevo, Göteborg, Stockholm, Capetown, Singapore, London, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne – but this is sooooooo different!

The equivalent conference here in Australia would gather 600-800 delegates, maybe 40-50 exhibition booths. Most European conferences seem to be a similar size, admittedly these are probably with a more academic emphasis, rather than such a strong commercial bent, which might explain some of the size difference. By comparison, last year’s HIMSS conference had 31,500 attendees and over 1000 exhibition booths – no incorrect zeros here – just mega huge!

I can’t even begin to imagine how one can accommodate so many people in one location. I have never even visited HIMSS before – we are relying heavily on second hand reports. You may start to understand my ‘deer in headlights’ sensation as we plan our first approach to the US market in this way.

Ocean’s profile is much higher elsewhere internationally. Our activity in the London-based openEHR Foundation and our products/consulting skills have a reasonable profile in Australia and throughout much of Europe; and awareness is growing in Brazil as the first major region in South America. In many ways the US is the one of the last places for openEHR to make a significant impression – there are some pockets of understanding, but the limited uptake is clearly an orthogonal approach to the major commercial drivers in the US at present, however we are observing that this is slowly changing… hence our decision to run the gauntlet!

openEHR’s key objective is creation of a shareable, lifelong health record – the concept of an application-independent, multilingual, universal health record. The specification is founded upon the the notion of a health record as a collection of actual health information, in contrast to the common idea that a health record is an application-focused EHR or EMR. In the openEHR environment the emphasis is on the capture, storage, exchange and re-use of application-independent data based on shared definitions of clinical content – the archetypes and templates, bound to terminology. In openEHR we call them archetypes; in ISO, similar constructs are referred to as DCMs; and, most recently, there are the new models proposed by the CIMI initiative. It’s still all about the data!

So, we’re planning to showcase two products that have been designed and built to contribute to an openEHR-based health record – the Clinical Knowledge Manager (CKM), as the collective resource for the standardised clinical content, and OceanEHR, which provides the technical and medico-legal foundation for any openEHR-based health record – the EHR repository, health application platform and terminology services. In addition, we’ll be demonstrating Multiprac – an infection control system that uses the openEHR models and is built upon the OceanEHR foundation. So Multiprac is one of the first of a new generation of health record applications which share common clinical content.

This will be interesting experience as neither are probably the sort of product typical attendees will be looking for when visiting the HIMSS exhibition. So therein lies one of our major challenges – how to get in touch with the right market segment… on a budget!

We are seeking to engage with like-minded individuals or organisations who prioritise the health data itself and, in particular, those seeking to use shared and clinically verified definitions of data as a common means to:

  • record and exchange health information;
  • simplify aggregation of data and comparative analysis; and
  • support knowledge-based activities.

These will likely be national health IT programs; jurisdictions; research institutions; secondary users of data; EHR application developers; and of course the clinicians who would like to participate in the archetype development process.

So far I have in my arsenal:

  • The usual on-site marketing approach:
    • a booth – 13342
    • company and product-related material on the HIMSS Online Buyers Guide; and
    • marketing material – we have some plans for a simple flyer, with a mildly Australian flavour;
  • Leverage our website, of course;
  • Developing a Twitter plan for @oceaninfo specifically with activity in my @omowizard account to support it, and anticipating for some support from @openEHR – this will be a new strategy for me;
  • And I’m working on development of a vaguely ‘secret weapon’ – well, hopefully my idea will add a little ‘viral’ something to the mix.

So all in all, this will definitely be learning exercise of exponential proportions.

To those of you who have done this before, I’m very keen to receive any insight or advice at this point. What suggestions do you have to assist a small non-US based company with non-mainstream products make an impact at HIMSS?