HIMSS coverage: Web services provide enterprise lingua franca

February 10, 2003

Web services offer an answer to integrating the polyglot of legacy hospital systems into an enterprise lingua franca for efficient data exchange. The in-house solution developed at the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is one

Web services offer an answer to integrating the polyglot of legacy hospital systems into an enterprise lingua franca for efficient data exchange. The in-house solution developed at the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is one example.

Web services are Internet-based applications that utilize an XML-based interface to query the application. Results are returned in a formatted XML data stream.

"Web services allow applications from different sources to communicate with each other without custom coding, independent of any one operating system or programming language," said Dr. Kevin McEnery, deputy chief of Anderson's Diagnostic Imaging Informatics division, to an audience at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting Monday.

Anderson used the Web services approach in developing its successful ClinicStation. The requirement was fast display of large images.

"At Anderson, there was an institutional need to provide a method for clinicians to obtain desktop access to diagnostic imaging studies," McEnery said. "We wanted the images to be looked at."

The hospital needed to integrate the image display with information from multiple legacy systems into a single application that would show an overall view of patient data, he said. And the application had to be easy to distribute and update throughout the enterprise. The technical solution had to be affordable and quick to implement.

The legacy systems resided on a variety of platforms, so no single access method could retrieve all the data needed. ClinicStation allows users to access any hospital system - including radiology reports, diagnostic images, cardiology, pharmacy, OR schedule, and operative reports - from a single browser screen. Additional reports are available by clicking on any procedure in the results window.

Security is addressed by an institutional firewall and session ID for each service transaction, and scalability has not been an issue. In October, the system handled 11.5 million audited transactions.

McEnery also offered a few caveats. An IDC report ("Software as services? What your mother didn't tell you," August 2002) cautions users about the hype over Web services, he said.

Fundamental changes need to be made in the way businesses view software assets and intellectual property rights before vendors can deliver on the promise of using components as a key element of Web services. Semantics, standards, security, and privacy issues will present major stumbling blocks to later stages of Web services implementation, the report said.