Data Tools: Use of XML

Many industries are using XML. Some see advantages and others see challenges or disadvantages in using XML.


XML advantages

+ Writing your markup language and are not limited to the tags defined by other people (UK Web Design Company, n.d.)

+ Creating your tags at your pace rather than waiting for a standard body to approve of the tag structure (UK Web Design Company, n.d.)

+ Allows for a specific industry or person to design and create their set of tags that meet their unique problem, context, and needs (Brewton, Yuan, & Akowuah, 2012; UK Web Design Company, n.d.)

+ It is both human and machine-readable format (Hiroshi, 2007)

+ Used for data storage and processing both online and offline (Hiroshi, 2007)

+ Platform independent with forward and backward capability (Brewton et al., 2012; Hiroshi, 2007)

XML disadvantages

– Searching for information in the data is tough and time-consuming without a computer processing application (UK Web Design Company, n.d.)

– Data is tied to the logic and language similar to HTML without a readily made browser to simply explore the data and therefore may require HTML or other software to process the data (Brewton et al., 2012; UK Web Design Company, n.d.)

– Syntax and tags are redundant, which can consume huge amounts of bytes, and slow down processing speeds (Hiroshi, 2007)

– Limited to relational models and object-oriented graphs (Hiroshi, 2007)

– Tags are chosen by their creator. Thus there are no standard set of tags that should be used (Brewton et al., 2012)

XML use in Healthcare Industry

Thanks to the American National Standards Institute, the Health Level 7 (HL7) was created with standards for health care XML, which is now in use by 90% of all large hospitals (Brewton et al., 2012; Institute of Medicine, 2004). The Institute of Medicine (2004), stated that health care data could consist of: allergies immunizations, social histories, histories, vital signs, physical examination, physician’s and nurse’s notes, laboratory tests, diagnostic tests, radiology test, diagnoses, medications, procedures, clinical documentations, clinical measure for specific clinical conditions, patient instructions, dispositions, health maintenance schedules, etc.  More complex datasets like images, sounds, and other types of multimedia, are yet to be included (Brewton et al., 2012).  Also, terminologies within the data elements are not systemized nomenclature, and it does not support web-protocols for more advanced communications of health data (Institute of Medicine, 2004). HL7 V3 should resolve a lot of these issues, which should also account for a wide variety of health care scenarios (Brewton et al., 2012).

XML use in Astronomy

The Flexible Image Transport System (FITS), currently used by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, holds images, spectra, tables, and sky atlases data, which has been in use for 30 years (NASA, 2016; Pence et al. 2010). The newest version has a definition of time coordinates, support of long string keywords, multiple keywords, checksum keywords, image and table compression standards (NASA, 2016).  There was support for mandatory keywords previously (Pence et al. 2010).  Besides the differences in data entities and therefore tags needed to describe the data between the XML for healthcare and astronomy, the use of XML for a much longer period has allowed for a more robust solution that has evolved with technology.  It is also widely used as it is endorsed by the International Astronomical Union (NASA, 2016; Pence et al., 2010).  Based on the maturity of FITS, due to its creations in the late 1970s, and the fact that it is still in use, heavily endorsed, and is a standard still in use today, the healthcare industry could learn something from this system.  The only problem with FITS is that it removes some of the benefits of XML, which includes flexibility to create your tags due to the heavy standardization and standardization body.