The health informatics community seems to have a fondness for mythological metaphor. On December 4th at the HL7 Policy Conference, Chuck Jaffe announced the HL7 Argonaut Project as a new initiative to accelerate adoption of FHIR® and to address recommendations from the ONC’s JASON Task Force report (see my summary of the JASON report in a previous blog post). In Greek mythology, the Argonauts accompanied Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, aboard their ship Argo.

Back to modern day software development, I believe that the goal and promised outcomes of HL7’s Argonaut Project will transcend mythology and deliver useful standards, implementation guides, and productive collaboration for healthcare interoperability. The HL7 Argonaut Project is comprised of eleven organizations, including EHR giants Cerner and Epic, and influential providers Intermountain Healthcare and Mayo Clinic. I was also happy to see the SMART project at Boston Children’s Hospital included as one of the project contributors. Their SMART on FHIR open source project has been very helpful ground-breaking work that significantly reduced my learning curve while developing an iOS mobile app using FHIR data.

From the HL7 press release:

The purpose of the Argonaut Project is to rapidly develop a first-generation FHIR-based API and Core Data Services specification to enable expanded information sharing for electronic health records and other health information technology based on Internet standards and architectural patterns and styles. The project will accelerate current FHIR development efforts to provide practical and focused FHIR profiles and implementation guides to the industry by the spring of 2015.

John Halamka, HIT Standards Committee Co-Chair and CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, wrote a blog post about HL7’s Argonaut Project where he states that two FHIR profiles are needed. The first for discrete data elements specified by the Meaningful Use Common Data Set, and the second for document retrieval. His blog post includes a list of the Common Data Set from the 2014 EHR Certification Criteria. I expect that corresponding FHIR profiles will be part of the initial deliverables from HL7’s Argonaut Project.

On the first day after HL7’s announcement, I received several email queries about the relationship between HL7 Argonaut Project and the Health Services Platform Consortium (HSPC). Why wasn’t HSPC mentioned in the HL7 press release? Are these competing initiatives? I believe they are very complementary. And several of the organizations included in the HL7 Argonaut Project are also founding members of HSPC. HL7’s Argonaut Project is a product of the HL7 organization and will deliver standards and implementation guides, whereas HSPC will deliver a reference implementation and testbed for services that likely will be a superset of those from HL7 Argonaut. Quoting HSPC’s blog, “The Health Services Platform Consortium (HSPC) is a not-for-profit community of healthcare providers, software vendors, educational institutions and individual contributors striving to increase the quality and lower the cost of healthcare by:

  • Facilitating clinical application interoperability and data sharing by defining open, standards based (HL7 FHIR, SNOMED, LOINC, etc) specifications for enterprise clinical services and clinical applications.
  • Accelerating software development through adoption of standards and providing “sandbox” environments for testing, conformance evaluation and certification of software.
  • Supporting a marketplace or “App Store” for the distribution of interoperable, shareable clinical applications.”

The first HSPC deliverable will overlap, and hopefully include, the specifications from HL7’s Argonaut Project. However, the last two HSPC deliverables are unique and hold potential to significantly accelerate implementation and “lower the bar” for developers. Is this the Golden Fleece that we all seek for health informatics?