Thursday, February 12, 2015

A new Mission for HL7

Last year the HL7 Board somewhat quietly changed the organization's Vision and Mission:

HL7 Vision

A world in which everyone can securely access and use the right health data when and where they need it.

HL7 Mission

HL7 empowers global health data interoperability by developing standards and enabling their adoption and implementation.

Compare the new mission to the previous one:

HL7 provides standards for interoperability that improve care delivery, optimize workflow, reduce ambiguity and enhance knowledge transfer among all of our stakeholders, including healthcare providers, government agencies, the vendor community, fellow SDOs and patients. In all of our processes we exhibit timeliness, scientific rigor and technical expertise without compromising transparency, accountability, practicality, or our willingness to put the needs of our stakeholders first.

The old mission was rather a mouthful, and threw in everything but the kitchen sink; likely to please all stakeholders.  The new mission is rather concise.  It has two parts:

  1. Develop standards
  2. Enable adoption and implementation of standards.
This is almost the way I describe my day job:
  1. Develop standards
  2. Promote their use in industry
  3. Teach standards
I don't think HL7 needs to do much different to be able to declare success in developing standards. On adoption and implenentation, we've seen some remarkable changes to the organization as it restructures to play with FHIR (all FHIR puns are intentional).  The growth in services to improve implementation (the help desk, remote education, the CDA examples task force), all illustrate ways in which the organization is responding to support implementation.

The last piece we really need to focus on within HL7 today is that word "Global". FHIR originated in Australia (via Grahame Grieve). The FHIR chiefs come from Europe and Canada. HL7 needs to restructure itself to better support the adjectives "global", "worldwide" and "International" that we like to throw around.

I acknowledge that such a change is scary, but I also think it is extremely necessary if HL7 is to remain relevant in the remainder of this century.  If we, as an organization, really want to take over the world, we better understand the needs of that world that we are asking to give us responsibility for.

Over the last four years as a member of the HL7 board, I've worked towards making HL7 focus more attention on its key audience, implementers; supported efforts to make the standards accessible to them; and have been working on new business models and structures to help the organization grow and become more international.  I'd like to continue that work as incoming chair.

The current process for adopting an incoming chair is governed by the organizational bylaws, and those bylaws state that for every office other than Chair (Chair-elect is NOT chair), the board must appoint a replacement.  I suspect that a bylaw change is already in process to adjust that process. We've frankly never encountered a situation (in my memory) like we have today, where the chair-elect has resigned.

What you can do is let the HL7 Board and the HL7 Executive Committee know that you would support me in that role.  To do that, simply nominate me here.


  1. Well, as you state this special circumstance doesn't actually provide the HL7 members with a vote. History shows that the best chance of becoming a chair is to a) work for a big organization, b) be an MD, c) be a US citizen, In your case that's 2 out of 3 ;-)

    I agree that true internationalization of the organization will be hard, and wil probably be painful and risky, but it has to be done. Now that IHE has to get used to no longer having RSNA/HIMMS as its main financial backers it'll have to (like HL7) come up with aninternational membership structure/fees - there may be an opportunity to learn from the structure of the "other" (HL7/IHE) organization. It raises (yet again) the questiona s to whether these two organizations should merge at some point in time.

    Refocusing the organization to be concerned about implementation also isn't easy - the nature of the organization is such (standards development oriented) that this will take a lot of work to change the hearts and minds of the current volunteers and staff, to get all of them to support that element of HL7's vision. Without the buy-in of the volunteer community this new focus will come to nought. As a long-term chair of what's effectively the "HL7 software imnplementers user group" it has been a struggle over the past 10 years to survive in the context of this standards-development focused organization - slowly we're beginning to see some changes.

    Anyway, there are certainly be challenges for the organization (and therefore for its chair) - if I had a vote you'd certainly be on my list of potential candidates, if only for your willingness to address the elephant in the room.. ;-)