Interoperability in a Real-Life Patient Environment

By Sandra Vance, Director, Global Interoperability Showcases, Informatics, HIMSS 

When I was an enterprise health IT manager in a large hospital system, I could have really used the ability to see available solutions from different organizations truly integrating. Instead, the IT teams I worked on patched systems together with custom interfaces or print-and-scan to make patient data available system-wide.

That was just a few years ago.

Today, I work with a team of HIMSS technical project managers, committees, and over 100 vendors, to create a real-life patient environment to help HIMSS conference attendees see first-hand how they can cure the headaches caused by trying to solve health information exchange challenges on their own.

HIMSS and Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) work together to encourage implementing repeatable, scalable health information exchange protocols, called IHE Integration Profiles. Hundreds of health IT application and infrastructure providers have baked these protocols into the base code of their clinical information systems.  The IHE profiles allow the systems to pass patient data to other EHRs through a health information exchange, using an identity manager, registry, and repository.

Profiles are available for 13 clinical domains to help systems from different specialties, such as Cardiology, Radiology, and Public Health, develop their systems so that they will effectively pass their data with other IHE-compliant systems.  IHE specification documents, called implementation guides, are freely available to enable clinical information and health IT system developers deploy effective systems.

Each year, IHE USA hosts a huge integration testing event in January in Chicago. If you have ever been involved in integration testing in a large hospital, you know chaos can ensue when trying to get multiple health IT vendor systems to work together.  First, there is trial and error, bumps in the road, and then, organizational finger-pointing. Internal teams struggle to make heads or tails of the information they are receiving from vendors. It is frustrating for all parties involved.

IHE North American Connectathon Panorama 2013

The annual IHE North American Connectathon is anything but the integration testing scenario I just described. Here’s why:

  • Tools in use allow systems to connect to each other and make logs available to the testing group.
  • System developers chat with each other via Skype to share tips and help solve each other’s problems for the good of the industry. Success of sending systems is dependent on those receiving systems completing the transactions and vice versa.
  • Most systems have been fully vetted with at least three partners by the end of this week of testing.
  • The products can then be implemented in a live healthcare environment without the challenges involved with custom integration work.

Success at the IHE Connectathon event qualifies clinical information system providers to demonstrate their systems in HIMSS Interoperability Showcases. The partnership between HIMSS and IHE has been in place for years and enables IT leaders from hospitals and other provider organizations to see many of the systems committed to interoperability work in synch, side-by-side.

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