Connect: An Open Source Effort to Improve Healthcare Info Sharing
The Obama administration is committed to overhauling government spending on technology by adopting open source solutions, and healthcare professionals are increasingly heeding the call of open source. This week brings an important step in empowering healthcare IT organizations to tie into the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), a federal initiative to facilitate the electronic exchange of health information. The open source inititiative is called Connect. It consists of open source software and accompanying documentation, available here. As Matt Asay notes, "the goal is to reduce the cost and complexity of tying into the U.S. national health information network, with three of the largest federal healthcare provider organizations, Defense and Veterans Affairs departments plus the Indian Health Service, each participating in Connect."
From the announcement of Connect:
"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 organization."
The Connect software came about after a 2008 decision by more than 20 federal agencies to connect their health IT systems to the NHIN. The important thing to note here is that they actually pushed toward an open source solution that healthcare IT providers can share, so that Connect is optimized for the real needs of healthcare organizations, many of whom either have archaic solutions or no solutions for sharing information.
The next step is going to be evangelizing Connect, and getting even small healthcare organizations to commit to it. That means reaching out to labs, pharmacies, mom-and-pop shops and more, in addition to large agencies and organizations. I expect that it will be a few years before the impact of these kinds of solutions are felt throughout the healthcare system, but we have to start somewhere, and open source platforms and gateways are the best solutions for effective sharing.