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Reference Architecture for Healthcare – Introduction and Principles

By Oliver Matthias Kipf, Software Lead EU MDR Program, Philips

In this article, I’ll share guiding principles for a reference architecture for the Healthcare industry. The main beneficiaries of this reference architecture are patients, health professionals, and Healthcare organizations. Its main users are planners, managers, and Enterprise Architects. A second article will focus on key design ideas for such a reference architecture, followed by a third article to describe its essential capabilities.

Healthcare – A Changing Landscape

The quality of life increases substantially if we keep a healthy mind and body. Healthcare systems play an important role to fulfill our individual healthcare needs and that of the larger population. Across the globe, Healthcare faces a multitude of challenges:

Though we have seen the introduction of advanced Healthcare technologies, many times they focus on specific conditions and treatments but fail to improve the overall experience from a patient perspective.

Take for example critical data, like test reports, many times delivered the old way through paper-based and handwritten documents. A July 2006 report from the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that handwritten prescriptions killed more than 7,000 Americans annually. A shocking statistic and only the tip of the iceberg of 1.5 million preventable medication mistakes.

That leaves us patients with questions, such as …why can’t my care provider integrate with the app I use to manage my health condition when I suffer from a chronic disease, or …how come, it seems, my online retailer knows more about my state of health than my doctor?

The Healthcare Landscape

Throughout the articles, I use a simplified Healthcare landscape, based on the World Health Organization’s six building blocks of health systems. At the center of this conceptual model is the person seeking health, surrounded by the health system building blocks (health worker, information, governance, etc.). An outer ring contains organizations, such as hospitals, day care facilities (care providers), manufacturers of medical devices, or producers of pharmaceutical products.

Healthcare Landscape

How to Take the Healthcare to the Next Level

The good news is that information technology can solve problems of fragmentation, through smart process management, and the exchange of standardized information, to name a few.

A Blueprint for the Healthcare Industry

The aim must be to help organizations provide health services with better outcomes, at lower cost, and improved patient and staff experience. We need a toolbox that is flexible, adaptable to individual needs, and that can serve a network of partners that team up to deliver care.

The Patient Perspective

As a patient with a chronic disease, I monitor my health condition daily. I manage my medication with the help of my devices and adjust my lifestyle accordingly. My care providers should work with me to manage my disease.

The Health Professional Perspective

As a Healthcare professional, I need to team up to coordinate delivery of care. I create, use, and share information with other care providers within a given episode of care, and across different treatment periods.

 The Architect and Planner Perspective

 As a user of the reference architecture, I need an easy-to-use toolbox that is readily available and helps me in my daily work. It needs to align with the regulations of our industry.

The Six Guiding Principles

Healthcare is a people business where health professionals provide personalized services to patients based on trust. A reference architecture should encourage delivery of care across a patient’s health continuum. It should contain an architecture development method and provide a blueprint for the architecture of a single enterprise and its partner network.

The following principles define the general properties for a reference architecture for health. They are tightly interwoven, and every principle builds upon the previous one.

Principle 1: Focus on the Person

Focus on the Person
Design health services and related processes around the patient, and not the disease. Keep in mind the health professional who provides the service and the patient who receives the service

Principle 2: Service Orientation

Service Orientation
Design the enterprise and your partner network along the health services and supporting services you provide

Principle 3: Team Delivery

Team Delivery
Coordinate care delivery across your partner network; the care you provide for a specific problem, condition, or illness during a specific period; and the care the patient receives across different care episodes

Principle 4: Quality in Every Step

Quality in Every Step
Make quality and regulatory compliance an integral part of your work. Define the quality structure of your partner network, and drive for processes to achieve desired results. Manage risks and apply change control

Principle 5: From Strategy to Execution

From Strategy to Execution
Plan where you want to be and how to get there. Build, deliver, and operate capabilities accordingly

Principle 6: ​ Lifetime Evolution

Lifetime Evolution
Environments change, new demands emerge. Services or processes require adjustments, assets last only a limited period and need maintenance – Continuously improve to get better

We can apply the six guiding principles to multiple elements and areas of the Healthcare landscape, as shown in the following diagram:

Healthcare Landscape & Principles

About the Author

Oliver Matthias Kipf is a Process and Solution Architect and certified Master Architect; He provides thought leadership, innovation, and architecture expertise in Healthcare. You can contact him at


European Commission, 2019: Defining Value in “Value-Based Healthcare” Report of the expert panel on effective ways of investing in Health (EXPH); 2019

European Union, 2017: Regulation (EU) 2017/745 on medical devices;

European Standard NEN-EN 15224:2017: Quality Management Systems – EN ISO 9001 2015 for Healthcare

Institute of Medicine, 2007: Preventing Medication Errors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

ISO International Standard, 2016: ISO 13485. Third edition 2016-03-01

IEC ISO, 2015: IEC 62304 Medical device software – Software lifecycle processes. Edition 1.1 2015-06

OECD, 2011: A System of Health Accounts;

The Open Group: Welcome to the Archimate® 3.1 Specification, a Standard of The Open Group:

US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health – Using the World Health Organization health system building blocks through survey of healthcare professionals to determine the performance of public healthcare facilities;

World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2019: Price setting and price regulation in health care – Lessons for advancing Universal Health Coverage

World Health Organization: National Health Planning Tools – Health System Building Blocks;

World Health Organization: Framework on integrated people-centred health services;

World Health Organization: Health Systems Strengthening Glossary:


The author likes to thank his colleagues at Philips and the team of The Open Group Healthcare Forum for their inspiration; and above all, his family for their great support.     @theopengroup



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