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XML (eXtensible Markup Language)
XML, the eXtensible Markup Language is
the brainchild of the World Wide Web Consortium
(W3C), an organisation that is dedicated to developing and harnessing
the full potential of the Internet.
XML is probably the most revolutionary of the new technologies
to come about since the introduction of the World Wide Web. Since its
conception in February 1998, XML has grown to become the standard platform for
information exchange and management in almost all industries, including
XML, which looks like HTML (Hypertext Markup Language - a
technology that is used to build web pages), is a descendent of the Standard
Generalized Markup Language (SGML), which has been around since 1960s, however
XML is more suited for the Internet. Both languages, XML and SGML, are both
meta-languages, which are languages that can be used to create vocabularies
that are relevant to their information. Another common feature is that of
descriptive markup. Descriptive markup allows for information to be inserted
into a document that computers use, in a structured manner and this makes it
independent of both the system on which the document was created and of the
processing to be performed on it.
These two features of XML make any information encapsulated by
XML independent of any software or system. These factors along with the fact
that it is easy to learn and it is license-free have contributed to the success
of XML and it probably came as no surprise to any one when the
Health Level 7 (HL7) organisation announced that its latest version of
the HL7 standard was to be based on XML.
The HL7 standard is a
healthcare standard for data interchange. The latest version (version 3.0),
because of its XML based format, has been adopted by the United Kingdom’s
National Health Service as data exchange standard for all
primary care health systems.
The potential of XML in the transfer of clinical data, because
of its system and software independent features, is very promising, and this
has probably prompted others to look into the use of XML in healthcare
information management. Mick Seal in his article -
The use of XML in Healthcare Information Management, described
how XML could be harnessed in data warehousing applications.
XML, because it was designed to work on the Internet, can
provide healthcare organisations with opportunities to develop applications
that would manage their data online as well as exchange information with
dissimilar applications within and outside their organisations.
Some healthcare organisations are now using XML to manage the
content of their electronic medical records (EMRs). Such organisations include
Acharga and Sharma Medical group,
The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopedic and District Hospital and
Poole Hospital. This is however not wide spread as no standard has been
developed on how the information within XML documents should be described.
However, the potential of storing data in XML has been
recognised as widely available databases such as Microsoft’s SQL server and
Oracle, now facilities do to just that.
XML is still an emerging technology and its application in
information management is still being explored. However there are few in doubt
about what it can deliver and that healthcare benefit from it when it finally
comes of age.