Federal agencies share open connection for national health info exchange

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The connection shared by federal agencies to the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) will be open, flexible and extensible, possibly making the network useful to organizations outside the federal government in the future, according to Federal Health Architecture officials.

At a conference organized by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONCHIT), leaders of the NHIN Connect project within ONCHIT said the gateway would support six core services: subject discovery (in essence, identifying the patient), document query, document retrieval, retrieval of an audit log, a messaging platform and an authorization framework, reported Government Health IT.

David Riley, the NHIN Connect program manager, said the office and its contractor, Harris Corp., are solidifying the specifications for the services and will implement standards endorsed by the Health Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP), a panel created and supported by ONCHIT.

Craig Miller, chief architect for the project, said the gateway will use Java and XML technology and a service-oriented architecture because it must interface with a wide variety of legacy systems in the participating federal agencies and must support the agencies’ different health information needs.

The departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, the Indian Health Service and the National Cancer Institute are the current user agencies involved in the NHIN Connect project. However, all 26 federal agencies that work with health records will have the opportunity to participate in future years, Riley said.

According to Government Health IT, the project's immediate goal is to demonstrate NHIN communications in September, along with other participants in the so-called NHIN trial demonstration. The project will use data that has been altered to protect the identities of the patients.

ONCHIT officials said they hope to have some of the NHIN technology ready for live health exchange by early next year.

State and local health information exchanges have asked federal agencies to share health records on patients. The agencies’ representatives have said they see the value of sharing, but in the current unstructured environment, health information exchange would be difficult to administer and risky, according to Government Health IT.