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Getting Data In and Out: The MacGyver Guide to Integration

Jesse Adams - Wednesday, July 16, 2014


I have always felt that MacGyver, the 80's TV show about a genius spy who was famous for putting everyday objects together as a means of escape, had a lot to teach those of us who help integrate disparate systems. Both integration and escaping the clutches of a maniacal mad man often times involves unreasonable deadlines, lack of resources, and potential for risk. The integration engineer typically risks his or her sanity trying to understand the different ways that systems want to communicate.


The tools that we often have at our disposal are the communications specifications of HL7 and X12, but many integration engineers or health informatics managers might be surprised to learn that interfaces (what we usually term HL7 and X12) are not the only tools available to us.Epic has an unfair reputation of not being interoperable. File extracts, imports, and web services are all potential options for getting healthcare data out and potentially even getting data into an EMR without resorting to an interface. These options also offer flexibility when the systems you are trying to communicate with do not support traditional interfaces (HL7 or X12) and you need a way to communicate with the system without doing manual transcription.


Data Extracts


Since close to the start of modern computing, we have been extracting and importing data. Many people will be surprised to hear, at least on the clinical side, that Epic supports these tools. Extracts in Epic are pretty easy to implement and can be a very powerful tool if used properly. They are implemented like every other analytical report and can use the same host of tools that Epic provides for those reports. Extracts can be built using some of the same tools that are used for some of the other population management tools.


Data Imports


Imports are a different matter. Importing data requires that Epic support the loading of the data into Epic’s database. You will need to talk to Epic about what data you want to load and where it will go. If you have programmers on staff, they might be able to modify your files to meet Epic’s import specifications; but otherwise you will need to make sure that the files represent Epic’s imports. One other potential option is to use an incoming interface, and use Epic’s ability to modify files and turn the file into HL7 messages. This is always an option, but can come with some complications including cost and where the data will be imported. You should always make sure and talk with your Epic EDI representative before using this technology.


Web Services


When all else fails, you can use web service integrations for communication either through Epic’s Interconnect™ or through one of the options on Open Epic. The options on Open Epic support the REST methodology, as long as the data set being accessed is supported by one of Epic’s REST APIs. These services allow for a variety of interactions with Epic and other third party systems that will help with the integration of data across these systems. Epic’s Interconnect™ supports a variety of service types using SOAP based messages. Interconnect has a lot of flexibility, but it can require a lot of work to build and support and really should only be used as a last option. The rule of thumb is use the REST services whenever possible.No matter what option you use and how you decide to use that option, I encourage you to talk to your Epic Technical Services representative and view the documentation on Open Epic.
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