Health On the Net

The role of CEN/TC 251 and its international relationships

Prof. Dr. Georges J.E. De Moor
Chairman CEN/ TC 251
Chairman IMIA WG 16
Ghent, Belgium

The successful exchange of information, both clinical and administrative, between different information systems is one of the major challenges for healthcare at present. Unfortunately there is at the present time a proliferation of heterogeneous and incompatible exchange solutions. As a result, linkage of systems by standard interfaces has now been broadly recognised as a must.

It was only with the introduction of telematics in healthcare that an urgent need was revealed for organised standardisation activities and for a common use of standards in healthcare informatics. Basic standards securing compatibility, connectivity and interchangeability were seen as especially desirable. In order to respond to this challenge, the Technical Board (BT) of the European Standardisation Committee (CEN) approved the establishment of a Technical Committee for Medical Informatics (TC251) in March 1990.

CEN/TC 251 establishes priorities based on healthcare market priorities. It also identifies both publicly available specifications and outputs from R&D programmes (e.g. AIM, Advanced Informatics in Medicine / Health Telematics, DG XIII-C4) which are suitable for rapid transformation into standards. When the market is not providing appropriate solutions, CEN/TC 251 generates suitable standards through consensus-building. The major objectives of CEN/TC 251 are reflected in the structure of its working groups and in its project teams' activities (see below).

CEN/TC 251 has so far been a successful technical committee. It has already produced a number of prestandards (ENVs) and CEN (technical) reports (CRs) and is on course to produce 23 new standard documents before the end of 1995. About 1500 experts from 25 different countries participate in these efforts. This is sometimes on a voluntary basis in delegations at the committee level, in working groups and in national mirror groups or may be at the request and with the funding of the Commission of the European Union as in the case of the 27 project teams.

The seven Working Groups (WGs) in CEN/TC 251 are :