Archetypes/DCMs MIA in SDOs

Curious to note that there is very little apparent interest in detailed clinical information models (DCMs) of any brand or flavour in the major Standards Development Organisations (SDO’s) – they are effectively Missing In Action when compared to the likes of CDA and IHE profiles.

The ISO 13972 DCM specification took a long and tortuous time to travel through the ISO TC 215 processes. Engagement with 13972 during its development, and from what I can observe now it is on the verge of publication has been rather sparse.  A further piece of work is now starting in ISO regarding quality criteria for DCMs but it also seems to be struggling to find an audience that understands it, or even cares.

I don’t quite understand why the concept of DCMs has not been a big ticket item on the radar of the SDOs for a long time as it is a major missing piece of any standards-based framework. Groups like CIMI are raising awareness, alongside the openEHR work, so momentum is gathering, but for some reason it seems to keep a very understated profile compared to new opportunities like FHIR in HL7.

The work of messages, documents, profiles and terminologies are clearly important for interoperability, but standardisation of clinical content models working closely with terminologies can potentially make the work required to develop messages, documents, and profiles orders of magnitude easier.

Let me test a metaphor on you. Think of each message, document or profile as a sentence and each archetype or DCM as a word, a building block that is one component of each sentence. By focussing on the building a specific sentence, we are working backwards by trying to determine the components, and the outcome is still just that single sentence. However if we start by standardising the words/archetypes, then once they are stable it is relatively simple to construct not only one sentence for a specific purpose, but the potential is a much greater output in which many more additional sentences can be created using a variety of words in different combinations. If we manage the words (archetypes) as core building blocks and get them right, then we allow a multitude of possible sentences (messages/documents/profiles) to proliferate.

The ‘brand’ of archetype/DCM solution does not concern me so much as raising awareness that clinician-led, standardised clinical content is a significant missing and overlooked piece of the international eHealth foundations puzzle.


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.


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.