Q&A: Microsoft BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 Simplifies Integration and Delivery of Patient Information for Healthcare Providers

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 23, 2004 — Healthcare providers are in the business of saving lives, not managing information technology. Yet the escalating costs and staff time required to integrate and maintain IT systems in a healthcare environment can get in the way of delivering efficient, affordable care to patients.

The new Microsoft BizTalk Accelerator for HL7, being launched today, works with Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004 to address these IT challenges in the healthcare industry by facilitating HL7 messaging and integration for hospital systems and processes. HL7 is an industry-standard application protocol for electronic data exchange of information in healthcare environments. BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 simplifies the integration process required for sharing patient information within and between healthcare systems and organizations, resulting in greater value and increased productivity for healthcare providers.

PressPass asked Kate Taneyhill , a Microsoft product manager for e-business server marketing, and Mark Oswald , a Microsoft program manager for e-business servers, to elaborate on how BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 extends the capabilities of BizTalk Server 2004 to meet the specific demands of the healthcare industry.

PressPass: What are the major business challenges and objectives for healthcare organizations that BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 is designed to address?

Taneyhill: Healthcare providers today are in a challenging position of providing the highest quality healthcare in a cost-effective way. Most healthcare CIOs tell us that IT integration is one of their biggest costs and their No. 1 pain point. They need an easier way to manage integration, more cost-effective methods to communicate information back and forth, and faster methods of developing and implementing new interfaces between systems.

Oswald: The industry as a whole is moving toward greater automation of the patient-care process through technologies such as Computerized Physician Order Entry and electronic medical records. Over the last 10 years, HL7 has become a global standard for electronic messaging in healthcare and is used in over 95 percent of U.S. hospitals. Healthcare providers need the mission-critical information transmitted through HL7 messages to be available in a timely manner, but they can’t afford to spend a lot of time and money managing the systems.

PressPass: How are BizTalk Server 2004 and the BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 designed to address these challenges and help organizations meet their objectives?

Taneyhill: Integration products like Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004 and the Accelerator for HL7 are a key part of lowering an organization’s messaging costs. The Accelerator grew out of Microsoft’s ongoing investment in healthcare, and from listening to customers and partners that wanted a more intelligent HL7 messaging solution. BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 is built on BizTalk Server 2004, and expands its capabilities to enable comprehensive support for HL7 messaging. Alongside the robust integration functionality that comes with BizTalk Server 2004, the Accelerator itself provides all the necessary schemas, validation rules and connectivity requirements to exchange HL7 messages.

Oswald: Put simply, this Accelerator allows BizTalk to speak the HL7 language. Specific technical components within the HL7 Accelerator include the full set of schema that are required for HL7 messaging, along with unique disassembler and assembler components that parse and serialize the HL7 messages so they can be processed. In addition, the Accelerator provides communications adapters required for lower layer protocols and support for HL7 message acknowledgements.

PressPass: What distinguishes Microsoft’s technology and approach from other HL7 product offerings?

Oswald: Many of the other vendors offering HL7 integration technology use proprietary tool sets that have been built strictly to do HL7 messaging functionality. They’ve got proprietary scripting or programming languages and development tools that an organization might have to learn from scratch. In contrast, BizTalk Server 2004 and the BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 capabilities are built on top of Microsoft Visual Studio .NET, which is a very broad tool set requiring skills that are widely available in the market.

Taneyhill: If a developer is familiar with the Microsoft Visual Studio .NET environment, within a few days he or she can become a skilled BizTalk programmer and work with the Accelerator for HL7. That means shorter implementation times, because the organization’s in-house staff doesn’t have to learn an entirely new system with unique ways of doing things, which ultimately impacts a company’s bottom line.

PressPass: How has Microsoft partnered with the HL7 Standards Organization and other healthcare industry representatives in developing the BizTalk Accelerator for HL7?

Taneyhill: Microsoft has been deeply involved in the HL7 standards body as a benefactor-level contributor for more than three years. We’re participating at the core level to help develop this ongoing standard and understand the industry’s thoughts behind how the standard should develop over time.

Oswald: From the early stages of our product development, we’ve gathered extensive industry feedback, from members of Microsoft’s Healthcare Industry Solutions Group, through our early adopter and joint development partner programs and through our field sales representatives who solicited customer input. This provided us with valuable insight regarding the Accelerator’s feature set and design at every step of the product life cycle.

PressPass: What are some of the most innovative ways that BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 and BizTalk Server 2004 deliver benefits for customers?

Taneyhill: The BizTalk solution provides healthcare organizations with a robust integration platform that will allow them to more easily manage and automate their business processes. One key way these products do that is by unlocking the information often hidden in these business processes, with a tool called Business Activity Monitoring (BAM). Healthcare organizations can use BAM to track all HL7 traffic that goes through the BizTalk Server engine for a complete and timely view of the transaction status. Healthcare professionals and business users can do this from their desktop and work in the tools they are familiar with, like Microsoft Excel, rather than having to learn a proprietary tool with a different interface. These healthcare workers can use BAM to leverage key real-time information that can help them to better understand how hospital processes are working and to improve operational efficiency.

Oswald: Another key benefit to healthcare providers is the unified development environment of BizTalk Server 2004 with Visual Studio.NET. Developers can leverage their existing skill sets and harness the .NET Framework. This solution offers easy integration with a provider’s existing IT investment and rapid implementation times, translating to better value and increased productivity for healthcare providers.

PressPass: How does BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 complement and integrate with BizTalk Accelerator for HIPAA?

Taneyhill: In talking with our customers in the healthcare market, most of them have told us that they need to implement the respective accelerators in very different environments within their organizations. The Accelerator for HIPAA, which focuses on facilitating information transactions to help providers carry out and comply with provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is most applicable to health plan administrators. The Accelerator for HL7 is more closely tied to infrastructure needs of healthcare providers, like hospitals or other healthcare setting, which involves a different set of users and somewhat different messaging processes. However, that said, our Accelerator for HL7 and the Accelerator for HIPAA are built on the same BizTalk foundation, so they work very well together.

PressPass: What other technologies support and integrate with BizTalk Server 2004 and the Accelerator for HL7?

Taneyhill: BizTalk Server and all of the BizTalk Accelerator products are part of the Windows Server System and, as part of the Windows Server System, BizTalk Server and the Accelerator for HL7 enable healthcare customers to more efficiently integrate their systems through manageable business processes that can be automated and orchestrated in a highly flexible manner.

Microsoft Office System applications can serve as a front-end to the BizTalk messaging environment. For example, users can take an XML document or an XML schema and use Microsoft Office InfoPath to create an online form for collecting patient data, then submitting that form to a back-end system using BizTalk and HL7.

Oswald: As we mentioned earlier, BizTalk Server 2004 and BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 also integrate deeply with the Visual Studio .NET development platform, so business users can employ familiar tools to design business processes and work within them.

PressPass: What kinds of feedback have you received from the healthcare organizations that are deploying and testing BizTalk Accelerator for HL7?

Oswald: Our early-adopter customers and partners that have been piloting the Accelerator for HL7 over the past several months include a mix of enterprise customers and independent software vendor (ISV) partners, who plan to roll out our technology as part of their overall healthcare IT solutions.

We’re getting great feedback from end customers, highlighting increased productivity when exchanging information between systems and locations. They’re also experiencing reduced time and lower costs as they build and manage the interfaces between systems. Microsoft’s ISV partners are particularly excited about working with the Visual Studio .NET development environment and gaining increased productivity from using those familiar tools in their own application development.

Taneyhill: One of our early-adopter customers is Scripps Health, a large Southern California-based healthcare system which has 10 hospitals. Based on their initial experiences, when these hospitals roll out BizTalk Server 2004 and the Accelerator for HL7 across the entire organization, they’re expecting to increase overall messaging efficiency by 25 percent. The IT staff at Overlake Medical Center, which is a 337-bed facility in western Washington state, has told us that BizTalk Server 2004 and the BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 are providing faster and more reliable message creation as well as better organization than the hospital’s current HL7 messaging adapter technology.

Those kinds of benefits have a ripple effect throughout a healthcare system. The less time and money that hospitals spend on managing their IT infrastructures, the more they can focus on providing the highest-quality patient care.

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s long-range vision for delivering technology to serve the healthcare industry?

Taneyhill: We’ll continue to work with our customers and partners in the healthcare and life-sciences industries to identify areas where our proven, cost-effective technology like the BizTalk Accelerator for HL7, can help organizations increase productivity and value, ultimately improving patient care.

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