EHR systems are widely used in hospitals and primary care centres but it is usually difficult to share information and to collect patient data for clinical research. This is partly due to the different proprietary information models and inconsistent data quality. Our objective was to provide a more flexible solution enabling the clinicians to define which data to be recorded and shared for both routine documentation and clinical studies. The data should be possible to reuse through a common set of variable definitions providing a consistent nomenclature and validation of data. Another objective was that the templates used for the data entry and presentation should be possible to use in combination with the existing EHR systems.
We have designed and developed a template based system (called Julius) that was integrated with existing EHR systems. The system is driven by the medical domain knowledge defined by clinicians in the form of templates and variable definitions stored in a common data repository. The system architecture consists of three layers. The presentation layer is purely web-based, which facilitates integration with existing EHR products. The domain layer consists of the template design system, a variable/clinical concept definition system, the transformation and validation logic all implemented in Java. The data source layer utilizes an object relational mapping tool and a relational database.
The Julius system has been implemented, tested and deployed to three health care units in Stockholm, Sweden. The initial responses from the pilot users were positive. The template system facilitates patient data collection in many ways. The experience of using the template system suggests that enabling the clinicians to be in control of the system, is a good way to add supplementary functionality to the present EHR systems.
The approach of the template system in combination with various local EHR systems can facilitate the sharing and reuse of validated clinical information from different health care units. However, future system developments for these purposes should consider using the openEHR/CEN models with shareable archetypes.