Monday, April 6, 2009

Federal Health Architecture Delivers Free, Scalable Solution Helping Organizations Tie Health IT Systems into the NHIN

The Federal Health Architecture is making software available as a first
step to help public and private health information technology systems
communicate to the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), a
federal initiative to facilitate the electronic exchange of health
information. The Federal Health Architecture, an E-Gov initiative led
by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information
Technology (ONC), is making this free software, called CONNECT, and
supporting documentation available at

The ONC has facilitated development of the NHIN, which will tie together
health information exchanges, integrated delivery networks, pharmacies,
government health facilities and payors, labs, providers, private payors
and other stakeholders into a "network of networks." The NHIN provides a
mechanism for previously disconnected systems and exchanges to connect
to each other and share data. The NHIN uses interoperability standards
recognized by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as
public and private sector specifications, participation agreements and
policies. To enable health information exchanges over the NHIN, the ONC
is working to develop the necessary governance processes and legal
framework for participation in the network.

"This software will strengthen our health systems' ability to share data
electronically and provide a wide range of benefits to citizens," said
Robert Kolodner, M.D., National Coordinator for Health Information
Technology. "Benefits include up-to-date records available at the point
of care; enhanced population health screening; and being able to collect
case research faster to facilitate disability claims, as demonstrated by
transfers of information already underway between the Social Security
Administration and MedVirginia, a regional health information

The CONNECT software is the outcome of a 2008 decision by more than 20
federal agencies to connect their health IT systems to the NHIN. Rather
than individually building software required to make this possible, the
federal agencies, through the Federal Health Architecture, created
CONNECT. This shared software solution can be used by each agency within
its own environment. CONNECT implements the core services defined by the
NHIN including standards for security to protect health information when
it is exchanged with other trusted health organizations.

The agencies built CONNECT using open source components, and will make
it available under an open source license in order to encourage
innovation and to keep costs low. CONNECT will be available to the
entire health care industry, which is expected to speed NHIN adoption
among health care organizations.

"Federal agencies accomplished something remarkable in developing
CONNECT. 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," said Dr. Kolodner. "Not only did
the agencies deliver a valuable product for use in the federal
government, CONNECT is now an option for any public or private sector
organization that wants to use the solution in the future to tie into
the Nationwide Health Information Network when it goes into full

The Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the
Social Security Administration (SSA), the 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 one another and with private sector organizations. In February
2009, the CONNECT software gateway was used for the first time in a
limited production environment when the SSA began receiving live patient
data from MedVirginia through the NHIN.

"Delivering CONNECT has been an enormous project, and we still have a
lot of work to do to move us to large-scale production usage. But with
the support of the federal agencies and industry, we can accomplish the
lofty health IT goals set at the national level," commented the Federal
Health Architecture's program director Vish Sankaran.

Private and public sector organizations can download CONNECT and use it
for their connectivity needs. As with other open source solutions,
organizations are encouraged to modify and expand the capabilities of
the software. Although the download is free, an organization opting to
use the solution should be aware it will be responsible for costs
associated with its implementation and maintenance within its own

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