Health IT Standards – The New Zealand View.

The following announcement of a workshop a day or so in New Zealand attracted my attention.

HINZ 08: HL7 - Future Directions for New Zealand

11.30am. Dougal McKechnie introduced the panel discussion about HL7 and health IT standards and how they should be used in New Zealand.

The National Institute for Health Innovation was commissioned to produce a document on HL7 and other health IT standards: Strategic Directions for Health Informatics Content Interoperability in NZ.

Dr Douglas Kingsford is one of the authors of the report with extensive experience in the area health IT standards and presented a summary of the findings:

The report identified some key health IT drivers:

  • quality of care delivery
  • patient safety
  • cost of care delivery
  • shortage of skilled healthcare workers
  • public health
  • biomedical research

There already substantial benefits from simple interventions such as human readable EMR content and simple decision support. There is a movement towards more advanced technology including complex decision support and personal health records.

Interoperability can be divided into functional interoperability (negotiated exchange of information) and semantic interoperability (exchange without prior agreement).

Semantic interoperability needs:

  • common semantics (reference model)
  • equivalent formal datatypes (number of different standards)
  • means to define / constrain compositions (templates and archetypes)
  • agreed interchange format

Other considerations include messaging versus persistence and implementation.

More reviewing the standards options and a record of some discussion of the report is found here:

The report itself can be downloaded from this link.

The program of the whole Health Informatics NZ (HINZ) conference of which this was a session is found here:

The report document provides two very useful sets of information. First it reviews where NZ is up to with health messaging and general Health IT Standards and second it provides a clear analysis of each of the different approaches being adopted.

I found sections seven and eight of the document ( pages 12-16) invaluable as what was concluded is that the answer has not yet become clear and that close observation of global trends will be vital.

This finding confirms the cautious recommendations made by DH4 to NEHTA a few years ago. (February 2006).


The bottom line here is that the answers as to the value of approaches beyond basic messaging with HL7 V2.x are still to be confirmed and that the relative places of openEHR and HL7 V3.0 as EHR standards are still to be fully clarified.

While it would be nice to have a clear way forward – but sadly the answer is ‘not yet’. More work, more implementations and more time is needed.

Both these documents need to be in the library of anyone interested in the EHR Standards domain.



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