Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Standards" for an HIE

When talking about sharing clinical data, we technical people have the tendency to point to the lack of standards and headaches associated with the secure transmission of such sensitive information. The good news is that over the years IHE (see below) has been faithfully working at creating frameworks for sharing medical data.

Last year, while at Connect 2009 in Washington DC, I had a chance to meet Karen Witting - the co-chair of IHE's IT Infrastructure technical committee. Karen, a senior software engineer with IBM, has done a lot of work for IHE and NHIN since 2006 and together with other very dedicated people has been working tirelessly at providing standards for sharing medical info.

Why is this relevant? Because no HIE should buy software from a vendor that does not implement the IHE frameworks. By the way, these are not "standards" but rather a theoretical abstraction of the interaction between various health entities. They are definitely the starting point.

Here is a short description of what IHE does:

"Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) is an organization whose aim is to improve how electronic patient information is shared among healthcare systems and, by doing so, to make sure that current and accurate data is readily available to both patients and healthcare professionals. IHE has developed technical frameworks that define how to process healthcare events, how data is shared, how security is handled, how audit records are generated, and how components interact with one another. The frameworks are made up of integration profiles that provide specifications of how each type of event is processed and how the audit message should be generated for each type of event. The profiles also define standards for security, communication, and time synchronization. These profiles are designed to ensure that data is transmitted securely and accurately among systems, and that data handling is coordinated according to communication and security standards. Having this common framework gives the various participants in a healthcare system a common base for integrating disperse systems."

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