Quality and effective patient care includes the use of health information technology, that is, a system in which patients and their clinicians can easily and securely access health information -- anytime and anywhere. As a result, those patients receive the right care at the right time to make informed decisions.
Exploring health IT interoperability
The IHE North American Connectathon Week, from Jan. 25 through Jan. 29 at the Cleveland Convention Center and HIMSS Innovation Center, will unite more than 1,000 health IT professionals and leading organizations as collaborators to advance health IT interoperability in North America. In fact, the testing portion of the week is the world’s largest testing event for the secure, interoperable exchange of patient health information.
Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise – or IHE -- is an initiative by health care professionals and the industry to improve the way computer systems in health care share information.
“We have held IHE North American Connectathon programs for vendor product testing for over 15 years, but 2016 is the first year with a full week of testing, training, education, awards and networking events for U.S. and international attendees with all kinds and levels of backgrounds,” said Elliot Sloane, president and executive director and founder, Center for Healthcare Information Research and Policy. Sloane is co-chair of IHE International, a board member of IHE USA and a speaker at the HIMSS Interoperability Workshop on Jan. 28 during Connectathon Week.
The work of IHE USA, host of the Connectathon Week 2016, enables open-source, volunteer collaboration to fill high-priority health care gaps, through the identification and development of profiles based on existing and emerging technical standards. “As a result, the U.S. government, providers and other users, and vendors can focus on critical health outcome improvements instead of the underlying technologies; and attendees can learn how these capabilities can be made possible in their own environment,” said Sloane.
He explained the “technical core” of the IHE Connectathon is the foundation of the week, because “it allows over 500 software engineers from registered EHR and medical device companies around the world to collaborate and solve health enterprise information integration gaps like no other event of its kind.
“These engineers represent health IT devices and information systems that underlie imaging, laboratory, pathology, dental, eye care, surgery, intensive care, pharmacy, and, of course, hospital and physician EHR software, tested for interoperability during each IHE Connectathon.” Sloane also noted the expanded offerings include training, education and award programs that empower newcomers and experts alike.
“The IHE North American Connectathons are unique in health care in that they represent an opportunity for the right people to gather and focus on breaking through barriers impeding interoperability,” said Eric Heflin, chief technology officer, Texas Health Service Authority, the health information exchange in Texas. He is the closing keynote speaker on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at the IHE North American Connectathon Conference 2016.
Interoperability is a familiar but not always top-of-mind term to most people. Bank ATMs and airline ticketing systems are both interoperable. Each system uses a secure infrastructure designed to access and exchange information so consumers can access their bank account or reserve an airline ticket from any location.
In health care, Heflin looks to the establishment of end-to-end interoperability that will “give patients optimal care as the result having complete, relevant and usable information available at the exact time each health care decision should be made.” He explained “organizations today are slowed down dramatically because they need to deploy custom interfaces for each connection.”
Simplifying secure data exchange
Sloane and Heflin understand the value of and need for secure, interoperable health IT systems, vital for quality patient care. They also recognize the challenges and successes of other sectors that have traveled a similar path to securely access and use data.
“As with e-commerce, I expect IHE USA’s efforts will enable our health care field to hit the tipping point in the coming decade, after which ongoing adoption and innovation becomes self-sustaining. At that point, the return on investment in new health information technologies will be funded by internal efficiency and efficacy gains, and the classic U.S. laissez faire marketplace can begin to function more like other information-age industries,” said Sloane.
Heflin believes the secure exchange of patient health data can become easier. “We have positive examples from telecommunications, manufacturing, financial services and even consumer electronics and the Internet itself that we can adapt and employ in health IT.”
For example, he asks, how often have you used your cell phone in a city other than where you live and had it fail to connect due to an interoperability error? “There are a few simple reasons for that reliability,” he said, and thus in health care, “we can do much better than we are today,” a message he will deliver during his presentation.
“The efficient use of secure IT systems to enable access and use of patient data for quality care and improved outcomes is a primary focus of Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise,” said Joyce Sensmeier, vice president, informatics, HIMSS North America. Sensmeier, who is president of IHE USA, has led the advancement of IHE over the last 15 years.
“The IHE North American Connectathon contributes to this goal with its consistent, repeatable testing process that encourages innovation and collaboration within the health IT sector. Thus, with extended access through IHE profiles that improve connectivity, patients, clinicians and anyone involved in patient care can find and use needed data to make informed care decisions.