If the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) is the information highway for health data exchange, CONNECT is the universal on-ramp for federal agencies. CONNECT is a software solution that lets federal agencies securely link their existing systems to the NHIN. During 2008, more than 20 federal agencies and the private sector collaborated to build CONNECT through the Federal Health Architecture (FHA), and as a result, agencies are heading down the road toward electronic health information interoperability…
The CONNECT solution enables secure and interoperable electronic health information exchanges with other NHIN participating organizations, including federal agencies, state, tribal and local-level health organizations, and healthcare participants in the private sector. The NHIN will ultimately be a vast network of public and private-sector organizations sharing information with each other under clearly defined specifications, agreements and policies.
AN OPEN-SOURCE APPROACH PROMOTES MASS ADOPTION
Based upon federal agency demand, FHA built the CONNECT gateway software from open source code. The solution was jointly developed by federal agencies yet deployed individually at the agency level. The decision to build the solution in open source provides many benefits, including:
- Driving down the cost of the solution for each agency and saves taxpayer dollars
- Making it affordable for other organizations to implement
- Promoting consistency throughout the federal government
- Decreasing deployment times for agencies
- Encouraging government and industry to innovate and build on CONNECT to continually make it stronger and promote interoperability throughout the industry
The CONNECT software is now available to any and all stakeholders in the health information exchange community for download. The goal is for CONNECT to be a platform on which government and industry can continue to collaborate and innovate. This will allow the software vendors to build, sell and compete with better AND interoperable solutions for the healthcare sector.
BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE CONNECT GATEWAY
The CONNECT Gateway is built on open source technologies and was made available publicly in spring of 2009. Three primary elements make up the CONNECT Gateway:
- TheÃ‚Â Core Services Gateway provides the ability to locate patients at other health organizations within the NHIN, request and receive documents associated with the patient, and record these transactions for subsequent auditing by patients and others. Other features include mechanisms for authenticating network participants, formulating and evaluating authorizations for the release of medical information, and honoring consumer preferences for sharing their information.
- TheÃ‚Â Enterprise Service Components, which provide default implementations of many critical enterprise components required to support electronic health information exchange, including a Master Patient Index (MPI), XDS.b Document Registry and Repository, Authorization Policy Engine, Consumer Preferences Manager, HIPAA-compliant Audit Log and others. Agencies are free to adopt the components or substitute their own implementations.
- The Software Development Kit (SDK) enables agencies to develop adapter components that integrate their existing electronic health information systems with the Core Services Gateway.
The CONNECT initiative sped from concept to reality in 2008. In March 2008, FHA awarded a contract to develop the CONNECT solution. The solution was built with federal agency participation, and in September of 2008, three agencies were already demonstrating the ability to share information with the private sector through the NHIN. The number of participating agencies grew to six for the December 2008 public demonstrations, and the plan is to have all federal agencies with a health line of business participate in the NHIN by the end of 2009. In the meantime, federal agencies have continued to participate in a series of trial implementations that focus on defining and deploying an initial set of services for the secure exchange of interoperable health information, and all agencies have received a deployable package that includes the CONNECT Gateway, enterprise service components and an adapter SDK.
THE ROAD FORWARD IN 2009
CONNECT has identified a number of opportunities for federal agencies to utilize the Gateway to address their mission needs in 2009 and beyond. These citizen-centric initiatives will provide a roadmap for 2009 development. Expected FHA activities include helping agencies deliver solutions that:
- Collect patient status assessments as they move among various care settings to track effectiveness of treatment
- Populate patient personal health records with information from federal systems
- Support needs of health plans to combat fraud and waste
- Improve coordination of benefits with other payer organizations
- Enhance onsite care for patients during disasters and other public health emergencies
- Support data collection for analysis of potential adverse events associated with drugs and medical equipment
- Help establish local networks among community health clinics that provide care to underserved populations
The expected journey forward is exciting. The progress achieved to date clearly demonstrates the viability of the NHIN and provides a glimpse into a dramatically enhanced healthcare future for Americans Ã¢â‚¬â€œ one based on agreed standards, attention to interoperability, affordability, and that leverages the advantages of open source software.