19th February 2014

February’s Expert Advice- Medical Connections

This month’s expert advice comes from David Harvey, Managing Director at Medical Connections


My product needs to exchange clinical data with systems from other vendors – what is the best way to achieve this?

Wherever possible, you should try to use a widely used international standard for such exchange.  Whilst locally defined custom interfaces can appear quicker (and may sometimes be necessary), they will need to be re-implemented for each partner you work with, so the more different partners you work with, the greater the benefit from using a common standard.


What standards are commonly for exchanging healthcare information?

The main ones are HL7 for administrative information and DICOM for images.  For more general electronic healthcare records, there is less agreement, and several different standards are used both for document content and for exchange.


Is DICOM only for radiology?

No – it can be used for any type of medical images, including ophthalmology, dermatology, pathology etc.


These standards look very complicated – how would I go about implementing them?

Before even starting, you should take advice on whether you are using the right parts of the right standards.  If you go ahead, then it would be sensible to use “toolkits” to handle as much of the detail as possible, and these are available for most platforms, either as open source or as commercially supported products.  This approach saves a great deal of time, as you don’t need to re-invent the wheel!


Do the requirements vary by country?

 Unfortunately, the answer is sometimes “yes”.  Whilst some standards, such as DICOM are effectively global, electronic record systems have been subject to much more political interference, and requirements can therefore vary by country – even the requirements in England, Scotland and Wales differ greatly.


How do I test that my application does comply with the standards I am using?

There are many test tools for the commonly used standards, and most of them are free, but professional advice on how to interpret the results can enhance their usefulness.  For more comprehensive testing however, you could attend an international “connectathon” at which 50+ companies send their systems and engineers to a week-long meeting, at which they test that their system communicate properly with those from other systems, and have the quality of the data exchangeassessed by independent monitors.


Where can I find more information?

We have put together a web page with links to much more information at  

Medical Connections Ltd provides commercial toolkits, custom development, advice and consultancy on standards for interoperability of clinical data.  For further information contact Dave Harvey on 01792 390209, or email