Problem Statement

Currently, various healthcare providers in our province do not have immediate access to a patient’s health data upon receiving the patient into their care due to their technological or funding limitations. For example, doctors or emergency ambulance teams cannot promptly view patient medication history, which would allow them to make informed decisions on patient’s treatment. This medication history is available on the Pharmanet and is accessible by Patient’s pharmacist or nurse. The challenge is to get appropriate data from one healthcare professional to another in a prompt and simple manner, while conforming to various security and messaging standards.

Due to sensitivity of health data, government requires online healthcare systems to use two factor authentication. Therefore, in addition to usernames and passwords, the system must also have a secondary unrelated method of authenticating users. For example, two factor authentication can be something a user knows, such as a password, and something a user has, such as a client SSL certificate.

Finally, the exchange of healthcare data between various system is subject to health messaging standards. In this case, the data is exchanged in the form of clinical documents created by a pharmacist or a nurse and viewed by a doctor or emergency medical technician. The clinical document is an HL7 v3 XML file which contains base-64 encoded PDF segment containing patient health data.

Project Description

FAR-EMR system is a secure and scalable multi-part server I built as an alternative to costly EMR systems in order to allow clinical document exchange between healthcare professionals. The type of a clinical document the system is created to handle contains patient’s medication history and is created in pharmacy or nursing home by a pharmacist or a nurse for use by doctors or other relevant healthcare professionals. The project was sponsored by my current company, Applied Robotics Inc., and significantly enhanced our personal health record expertise.

FAR-EMR project used Agile development methodology, while closely following XP process. The small size of project team and close collaboration with nursing homes, pharmacies and various EMR vendors made Agile the appropriate methodology to develop a highly appealing end product with a focus on healthcare professionals and their EMR applications.

FAR-EMR system is composed of authentication server, resource server, database, and web service clients, which implement the following functionality:

  • authentication server uses two factor authentication method in the form of user credentials and SSL client certificate to grant users access to the resource server;
  • resource server provides a set of secure RESTful webservices allowing users to send and receive clinical documents, validate document structure, and create patients and practitioners;
  • database provides tables to store user information, patients, practitioners, and clinical
  • web service client allows pharmacy software to send clinical documents to the resource server from a command line.

Context Diagram of FAR-EMR System

Upon receiving a patient into their care, a health professional contacts their colleague to request a patient’s health information. Then, the recipient of a call generates a medication history report in their health system. After the report is complete and verified, the supplier’s health system invokes a command line client. Command-line client connects to FAR-EMR HTTPS Authentication server with the provided SSL client certificate and supplier’s username and password and receives a token upon successful authentication. Finally, the command line client connects to the resource server and submits the received token along with XML clinical document data. The resource server verifies the token and stores the data into MySQL database.

Once the data is available in the database, the health professional requesting health data connects to authentication server using their miscellaneous application and sends authentication credentials. The server then goes through the same authentication process described above and issues a token. Thus, using the token, a consumer application can request and receive clinical data from resource server.

Technologies used on this project are as follows:

  • MySQL database: FAR-EMR uses MySQL running on Linux server to store data. The database contains tables for storing Clinical Documents, Patients, Practitioners, and User Authentication information.

  • C Language: FAR-EMR lightweight authentication and resource servers are written entirely in C language.

  • OpenSSL Library: FAR-EMR uses OpenSSL library to create certificates, validate clients during first stage of authentication, and encrypt all communication between client and server.

  • Libxml2 Library: FAR-EMR uses Libxml2 to parse XML data and create XML responses.

Project Outcomes

FAR-EMR system satisfied project sponsor’s requirements: during acceptance testing, we were able to handle hundreds of simultaneous clinical document submissions and requests on a single laptop. The system is also a demonstration of a functioning scalable and secure EMR server without resorting to feature-rich, but difficult to configure and secure, web frameworks and servers. Furthermore, due to its event-driven architecture, FAR-EMR scales far better than EMRs deployed on process-driven servers such as Apache. While further development work is required to make FAR-EMR production ready, the proof-of-concept demonstration was a success, and the system could present a viable alternative to existing EMR products in the near future.

The XP/Agile principles were fulfilled as follows:

  • constantly refining user requirements in the form of user stories;
  • recognizing changing FAR-EMR requirements, and redesigning the product accordingly;
  • keeping the development process simple in the form of weekly iterations;
  • and using completed software demonstrations to project sponsor as the true measure of progress.

Testimonial

We now have a working internal system and are integrating that capability with the resources of a leading provider of laboratory results in BC to offer very soon a production version of a complete electronic patient health record… …I am confident that the results derived from this [FAR-EMR] project will form the foundation of a significant advance in the distribution of health information in our province and perhaps the rest of the country.

  • Dennis B., President, Applied Robotics Inc.


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