Wednesday, April 8, 2009

HHS makes software available for health IT network

Federal Computer Week
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

HHS makes software available for health IT network

     * By Mary Mosquera

   The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) said it is making
   software available to connect health information technology systems to
   the nationwide health information network (NHIN). The software
   availability is a first step toward encouraging public and private
   organizations to link with the NHIN, which would provide for the
   electronic exchange of health data, HHS has said.

   The Federal Health Architecture program, an e-government effort led by
   HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information
   Technology, is making the free software, named Connect, and supporting
   documentation available at

   The national coordinator's office has established the foundation for
   development of the NHIN, which it says will tie together health
   information exchanges, integrated delivery networks, pharmacies,
   government health facilities, laboratories, doctors, hospitals and
   private payers into a "network of networks." The NHIN uses
   interoperability standards, public- and private-sector specifications,
   participation agreements and policies, Robert Kolodner, the national
   coordinator for health IT, said April 6.

   The NHIN would provide for up-to-date records available at the point of
   care, enhanced population health screening, and the ability to collect
   case research faster to facilitate disability claims, he said.

   The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, the Social Security
   Administration (SSA), and HHS' Centers for Disease Control and
   Prevention, the Indian Health Service, and the National Cancer
   Institute have tested and demonstrated Connect's ability to share data
   among each other and with private-sector organizations, Kolodner said.
   In February, SSA used the Connect software gateway for the first time
   when the agency began receiving live patient data from MedVirginia, a
   regional health information exchange, through the NHIN. SSA has said it
   is using the NHIN to speed up delivery of information to support
   disability claims applications.

   The Connect software is the result of a 2008 decision by 26 federal
   agencies to connect their health IT systems to the NHIN, Kolodner said.
   Instead of individually building software required to make this
   possible, the agencies produced the Connect software through the
   Federal Health Architecture program. The software establishes the core
   services defined by the NHIN, including standards for security to
   protect health information when it is exchanged with other trusted
   health organizations, he said.

   "Federal agencies accomplished something remarkable in developing
   Connect," Kolodner said. "They looked beyond their individual needs to
   the needs of the group as a whole, and they collectively built a
   solution that provides benefit to all involved much faster and at a
   significantly reduced cost than if they had worked independently."

   HHS plans to make Connect, which is based on Sun Microsystems
   open-source technology, available under an open-source license to
   encourage innovation and to keep costs low, said Vish Sankaran, the
   Federal Health Architecture program director. The software will also be
   available to the health care industry in order to speed NHIN adoption
   among health care organizations.

   The federal government has developed a working prototype, which can be
   deployed across multiple agencies, said Bill Vass, Sun president and
   chief operating officer.

   "The open nature of the IT foundation is critical to ensuring that
   government can work with the private health care sector to
   revolutionize the nation's health care system," he said.

   About the Author

   Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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