The healthcare standards development organization Health Level Seven will make much of its intellectual property, including its key Clinical Document Architecture standard, available without charge to healthcare organizations and without the previously required HL7 membership.
"It's been a year in the planning," said Dr. Charles Jaffe, CEO of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based organization. The HL7 board took a final vote Aug. 1 to go forward with the plan. "I can tell you that the board was unanimous in this and as hard as it is to believe, they firmly will position this as, 'This was the right thing to do.' "
The HL7 standards will not become open-source. Jaffe said users of HL7 will be required to enter into a license agreement once the plan is put into place in the first quarter of 2013. But the requirement that developers and other healthcare organizations become HL7 members to use the organization's intellectual property will be dropped.
So, how will the organization sustain itself financially? Jaffe said HL7 expects that developers and other organizations will still want to join HL7 and pay membership fees starting at $700 for individuals and running on a sliding scale for organizations based on revenue. Fees range from $1,200 at the low end to $19,635 for companies with more than $50 million in revenue. The organization has about 2,500 active members, Jaffe said.
"I expect there to be interest in HL7 for participating in the development of those standards," Jaffe said. "My interest is increasing the participation of those who actively use HL7." Among current HL7 users are some of the largest healthcare delivery organizations in the U.S., including Kaiser Permanente, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department and the Military Health System.
"Their participation in HL7 should increase," Jaffe said.
Even now, Jaffe said, every electronic health-record system vendor must use HL7 intellectual property to certify their systems as capable of meeting the meaningful-use criteria that are part of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive payment programs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
"Meaningful use Stage 2 is a tribute to Health Level Seven," he said. "You couldn't implement meaningful use without HL7. I think more importantly, as we move toward meaningful use Stage 3, what will be the HL7 specifications responsible for that? If you are a vendor, the best way to do it is participating in HL7."