Why the buzz about CIMI?

With the recent public statement from the Clinical Information Modelling Initiative (CIMI) my cynical heart feels a little flutter of excitement. Maybe, just maybe, we are on the brink of a significant disruption in eHealth.

Personally I have found that the concept of standardising clinical content to be compelling and hence my choice to become involved in development of archetypes. During my openEHR journey over the past 5 or so years it has been very interesting to watch the changing attitudes internationally – from curiosity and ‘odd one out’  through to “well, maybe there’s something in this after all”.

And now we have the CIMI announcement

So what has been achieved? What should we celebrate and why?

At worst, we have had a line drawn in the sand: a prominent group of thought leaders in the international health informatics domain have gathered and, through a somewhat feisty process, recognised that a collaborative approach to the development of a single logical clinical content representation (the CIMI core reference model) is a desirable basis for interoperability across formalisms. Despite most of the participants having significant investment and loyalty to their own current methodology and flavor of clinical models, they have cast aside the usual ‘not invented here’ shackle and identified a common approach to an initial modelling formalism from which other models will be derived or developed. Whether any common clinical content models are eventually built or not, naming of ADL 1.5 and the openEHR constraint model as the initial formalism is a significant recognition of the longstanding work of the openEHR Foundation team – the early specifications emerged nearly 20 years ago.

At its idealistic best, it potentially opens up a new chapter for health informatics, one that deviates from the relatively safe path of incremental innovation that we have followed for so many years – the reliance on messages/documents/hubs to enable us to exchange health information. There is an opportunity to take a divergent path, a potentially transformational innovation, where the focus is on the data itself, and the message/document/EHR becomes more simply just the receptacle or vehicle for the data. It could give us a very real opportunity to store lifelong health information; simplify data exchange (whether by messages or documents), aggregation, querying and analysis; and support knowledge-based activities such as decision support – all because we will (hopefully) have non-proprietary, common, agreed and fully defined models of clinical content and known transformations between each formalism.

Progress during the next few months will be telling. In January 2012, immediately before the next HL7 meeting in San Antonio, the group will gather again to discuss next steps.

There is a very real risk that despite best intentions all of this will fade away to nothing. The list of participating organisations, including high profile standards organisations and national eHealth programs, is a veritable Who’s Who of international health IT royalty, so they will all come with their own (organisational and individual) work experience, existing modelling resources, hope, enthusiasm, cynicism, political agendas, bias and alliances. It could be enough to sink the work of this fledgling group.

But many are battle-weary, having been trudging down this eHealth path for a long time – some now gradually realising that the glacial incremental innovation is not delivering the long-term sustainable answers required for creating 21st Century EHRs as they had once hoped. So maybe this could be the trigger to make CIMI fly!

I think that CIMI is a very bright spark on the health IT horizon. Let’s hope that with the right management and governance it can be agilely nurtured into a major positive force for change. And in the future, when its governance is mature and processes robust, we can integrate CIMI into the formal standards processes.

Best of luck, CIMI. We’re watching!

CIMI – initial public statement

The following public statement has been released by the Clinical Information Modelling Initiative today:

Public release

The Clinical Information Modeling Initiative is an international collaboration that is dedicated to providing a common format for detailed specifications for the representation of health information content so that semantically interoperable information may be created and shared in health records, messages and documents. CIMI has been holding meetings in various locations around the world since July, 2011. All funding and resources for these meetings have been provided by the participants. At its most recent meeting in London, 29 November – 1 December 2011, the group agreed on the following principles and approach.


  1. CIMI specifications will be freely available to all. The initial use cases will focus on the requirements of organisations involved in providing, funding, monitoring or governing healthcare and to providers of healthcare IT and healthcare IT standards as well as to national eHealth programs, professional organisations, health providers and clinical system developers.
  2. CIMI is committed to making these specifications available in a number of formats, beginning with the Archetype Definition Language (ADL) from the openEHR Foundation (ISO 13606.2) and the Unified Modeling Language (UML) from the Object Management Group (OMG) with the intent that the users of these specifications can convert them into their local formats.
  3. CIMI is committed to transparency in its work product and process.


  • ADL 1.5 will be the initial formalism for representing clinical models in the repository.
    • CIMI will use the openEHR constraint model (Archetype Object Model:AOM).
    • Modifications will be required and will be delivered by CIMI members on a frequent basis.
  • A set of UML stereotypes, XMI specifications and transformations will be concurrently developed using UML 2.0 and OCL as the constraint language.
  • A Work Plan for how the AOM and target reference models will be maintained and updated will be developed and approved by the end of January 2012.
    •  Lessons learned from the development and implementation of the HL7 Clinical Statement Pattern and HL7 RIM as well as from the Entry models of 13606, openEHR and the SMART (Substitutable Medical Apps, Reusable Technologies) initiative will inform baseline inputs into this process.
  • A plan for establishing a repository to maintain these models will continue to be developed by the group at its meeting in January.

Representatives from the following organizations participated in the construction of this statement of principles and plan:

Further Information:

In the future CIMI will provide information publicly on the Internet. For immediate further information, contact Stan Huff (stan.huff@imail.org)

CIMI & beyond…

The Clinical Information Modelling Initiative (#CIMI) is currently meeting in London. It comprises a significant group of healthcare IT stakeholders and was formed some months ago as an initiative by Dr Stan Huff. After a number of face to face meetings and email list exchanges, the intent is that at the end of this 3 day meeting there will be an agreed decision on a common clinical content modelling formalism/methodology for our Electronic Health Records.

For background, from Sam Heard’s email to the openEHR email list on November 2, 2011:

The main topic I want to address is the international initiative to develop a standardised clinical modelling methodology. This has some IHTSDO secretarial support and is led by Dr Stan Huff of Intermountain Healthcare, a former HL7 Chairperson and co-founder of LOINC, who has been advocating a model-based approach for many years. The current approach at Intermountain has been influenced by openEHR and uses a two-level modelling approach. Stan has established a leadership group through trust and reputation, which includes a variety of agencies who have been working in the area and national eHealth programs or major initiatives who are interested in consuming the models. It has grown out of an HL7 Fresh Look initiative and is currently known as the Clinical Information Modelling Initiative (CIMI).

The group has committed to determining a single formalism for clinical modelling and ADL and openEHR are on the list of alternatives which is as follows:

  • Archetype Object Model/ADL 1.5 openEHR
  • CEN/ISO 13606 AOM ADL 1.4
  • UML 2.x + OCL + healthcare extensions
  • OWL 2.0 + healthcare profiles and extensions
  • MIF 2 + tools HL7 RIM – static model designer

Proponents of the five different approaches have been presenting to members of the group, who have a variety of experience in these matters. Fourteen organisations will cast a vote on the formalism to use including openEHR, Singapore, UK NHS, Results 4 Care, HL7, Canada Infoway, 13606 Association, Tolven, CDISC, GE/Intermountain, US Departments, CDISC, SMArt and Mitre.

At the preliminary vote, held recently on November 20, the two most popular options were openEHR ADL 1.5 and UML.

Today CIMI will vote on a proposal for either ADL 1.5 or UML to be adopted as the initial common formalism for use, and determine a road map for coordinated development of semantically interoperable clinical models into the future. The potential impact of this is huge and exciting. It could be a disruptive change in health IT.

We hold our collective breath!