HL7 to offer its standards for free

HL7 International has announced it will make much of its intellectual property, including its widely used V2.x, V3 and CDA interoperability standards, free under licence to the international healthcare community.

In what is being touted as one of the most important breakthroughs in interoperability in a decade, the global healthcare standards-making body said it will spend the next few months planning for the move with the policy expected to take effect early next year.

In a statement, HL7 International CEO Charles Jaffe said that by eliminating the price barrier, the organisation can come closer to realising its goal of using health IT to reduce costs and improve the quality of care.

“Coupled with increasing government demand for standards that do not require a licensing fee, our decision to move toward free standards is perfectly aligned,” Dr Jaffe said.

Richard Dixon-Hughes, chair of HL7 Australia and chair of the HL7 International advisory council which made the recommendation, said it was a step in the right direction that would be greatly welcomed by members and the wider eHealth community.

“It opens up opportunities for more open collaboration among health information standards developers,” Mr Dixon-Hughes said. “It helps HL7 to partner with many others in the standards development and software development communities who are committed to making their products available free of charge.”

Mr Dixon-Hughes said there would be an effect on HL7's revenue, but “it is not as if the standards are being given away; they will be licensed and properly managed like any open source product,” he said. “The benefactor members of the main organisation are strongly behind this and it will greatly facilitate world-wide acceptance and uptake of HL7 standards.

“It is a strategic decision but HL7 International has recently built up its membership base and the members have indicated they are prepared to stick by it. There are many benefits to being a member, such as our education programs.”

Klaus Veil, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Western Sydney and a former member of the HL7 International board, said the announcement was “an excellent move that is not before time”.

“There have been calls for making HL7 IP more freely accessible for many years and it was something that I pushed for during my eight-year term on the HL7 International board,” Mr Veil said.

“By not having the IP freely accessible it excluded significant parts of the global market, in particular the open source community and developing countries.

“I believe that organisations such as OpenMRS and the open source health community will take a much more positive view now because HL7 will be more in line with the open source philosophy. It's a big step forward for HL7 to capture the hearts and minds in the open source community, who mainly focus on developing countries.”

Christopher Chute, chair of the ISO Technical Committee 215 on Health Informatics, said the IP from HL7 was crucial to achieving interoperability among healthcare providers.

“It enables efficient and effective care across multidisciplinary teams that increasingly are the norm for healthcare,” Dr Chute said. “HL7’s decision to make these resources effectively a public good is hugely welcome and will accelerate their value to society and patients everywhere.”

HL7's current licensing under the IP/membership model, which includes access to and the right to use HL7 standards, will continue until the new open model is implemented in early 2013.

HL7 standards are used in many eHealth developments in Australia, including Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) standards for the PCEHR and HL7v2 for electronic messaging. Implementation guides for HL7 standards are also published as Australian Standards.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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