HL7 delivers healthcare interoperability standards

HL7 UK Outreach Programme

The announcement by President Obama of $144 million dollars to improve the teaching on the electronic healthcare record at US universities, highlights the importance now attached to this area. The Obama plan focuses both generally on strengthening university departments in the healthcare informatics field, but also on specific development of new teaching materials. 

The extreme challenges in achieving interoperability in capture, storage and retrieval of patient clinical information as demonstrated in recent years in the NHS, underlines the importance for every healthcare informatics graduate going into the NHS or its suppliers of having the best possible skills in this area. 

The outreach initiative, described on this page, is possibly unique in involving every UK university with degree-awarded health informatics working together with HL7 UK, a professional healthcare informaticians group, to better inform students on one aspect of healthcare informatics - semantic interoperability. Now, in it's third year, the outreach initiative introduces, into every university syllabus, practical material on use of standards - particularly the HL7 set of standards - in improving interoperability in exchange of patient clinical information between independent systems and patient record structures. 

View the list of Universities involved in this collaboration with HL7 UK...>>

A "faculty" group has been formed comprising of healthcare informaticians, lecturers in health informatics and also the Education lead in the Department of Health's Informatics Directorate Technology Office: Data Standards and Products.

A further possibly unique aspect of the collaboration is that the modes of delivery and integration of materials actively follow the rich diversity of how today's university department addresses its students.


The outreach programme has four main modes of delivery:

A. Faculty delivered:  Workshop and presentation materials completely delivered by a visiting informatician within the outreach programme

B. Mixed Faculty/host lecturer delivered:  This year we plan a new workshop session designed for joint delivery

C. Augmenting of host lecturer's content/materials:  This mode is appropriate where students are working in the NHS or industry but attend university often enough for the course to be run in a hybrid mode with both delivered material, but also lots of reference material

D. Full distance learning integration:  here joint projects are in place to work alongside the university's professional course ware developers to introduce new materials into fully accredited distance learning modules

Programme Detail

The programme has continually evolved and developed over the course of the academic year and can now be seen as a combination of three major elements:-

  • A strong faculty group
  • Availability of a rich combination of presentation materials, tutor notes, and workshop materials
  • Ability to successfully integrate with each university course in terms of their objectives, methods of working and time slots

Each of these three are explored in more detail below.

A strong faculty group

The faculty group provides a widely-based group to take forward the Outreach Programme. Faculty members develop and present outreach sessions. The five people who currently comprise the faculty group are a combination of HL7 UK members, outreach developers and university healthcare informatics lecturers:-

  • Philip Scott, HL7 UK Board Member (representing the Board in the operation of Outreach Programme) and Portsmouth University
  • Denise Downs, Education lead for Department of Health's Informatics Directorate Technology Office: Data Standards and Products
  • Isobel Frean, HL7 UK Board Member, Bupa Group Medical
  • Owen Johnson, Yorkshire Centre for Healthcare Informatics (University of Leeds)

To support the faculty group there is an HL7 UK wiki specifically for the group containing a wide mixture of information and materials to support university outreach work.

Faculty conference calls are focused around specific tranches of work and serve as a useful method to collaborate and comment on developments.

Presentation materials, tutor notes, workshop materials

There is a growing and wide ranging set of materials within the Outreach Programme which go well beyond the presentation slide decks originally envisaged.

  • Workshop materials have evolved into being used as both as in-line items aimed to keep students on their toes, as well as more extensive workshop topics aimed at lasting an hour or more (one workshop session lasted 2 hours)
  • The range of materials to support the sessions is increasing, for example the course synopses have become an important aid to universities deciding appropriate modules to select, as well as building a record of the totality of materials available and manage any overlaps.
  • Planned student objectives for a module are now increasingly being integrated into the presentation materials.
  • The delivery of materials in advance of the course has become an important element for those universities where students are accustomed to a detailed study of materials prior to the session itself
  • Tutor notes have become an important element in the package potentially allowing a wider set of presenters able to take on a particular module
  • The MIM walkthrough web-based materials will provide a first set of materials available either for independent self-study or used integrated as part of a scheduled delivery module.

Integrating with university, course lecturer objectives

  • Flexibility in how the HL7 UK contribution integrates with what is happening on the ground has become an important aspect of outreach.
  • Each course has a different dynamic in terms of student's method of working.
  • Lengths of slots we are offered varies greatly and even changes as/where the university re-evaluates at the start of a term the length and nature of the course. The presentation decks are increasingly built with "stop" points which can be used to insert workshop materials, or where time is limited, to create a shorter presentation
  • For each student group the use of in-line workshop materials as against an extended workshop needs to be evaluated. In extreme cases the workshop component is timetabled into a different slot in a laboratory (St Georges)
  • The motivation for take-up of the sessions varies: in some cases, to fill a gap in the lecturers own knowledge, in others, to enhance delivery by having the experience and real examples available and always to have expertise on hand able to answer detailed questions
  • Some sessions have been delivered as Guest Lectures and are available to a range of students and are over and above the current course, while the majority have been integrated into a specific Masters or undergraduate programme and in some cases, were even within the formal student academic assessment structure.

Useful links:

Last modified 09/11/11