NHIN: The New Health Internet?

Chilmark has not been a big fan of the National Health Information Network (NHIN) concept. It was, and in large part still is, a top heavy federal government effort to create a nationwide infrastructure to facilitate the exchange of clinical information. A high, lofty and admirable goal, but one that is far too in front of where the market is today.  The NHIN is like putting in an interstate highway system (something that did not happen until Eisenhower came to office) when we are still traveling by horse and buggy. Chilmark has argued for a more measured approach beginning locally via HIEs established by IDNs (our favorite as there is a clear and compelling business case) and RHIOs in regions where competitors willingly chose not to compete on data, rather seeing value in sharing data.

But what might happen if the folks in DC stopped talking about the NHIN as some uber-Health Exchange, but instead positioned it as a consumer-focused platform?

That is basically what happened yesterday at the ITdotHealth event where the new federal CTO, Aneesh Chopra and new HHS CTO Todd Park presented their conceptual idea to a pretty select group who had gathered together to discuss the idea of platforms in HIT to support discrete, substitutable, modular apps. (John Halamka gave a nice write-up of the event in which he participated on the first day).  Chopra and Park were seeking to float this idea among the movers and shakers of new models for HIT, gauge the interest and ultimately solicit support for the concept.

In somewhat of a re-branding exercise. Chopra and Park are proposing that the NHIN now be viewed not so much as solely a clinician to clinician care coordination exchange platform but rather one that also will focus on the consumer, creating a secure Health Internet to facilitate consumer access to and ultimately control of their personal health information (PHI). The basic NHIN, let’s now refer to it the Health Internet, is still composed of the same technology stack: platform independent, open source, freely available with published standards, etc. that support an independent software vendor’s (ISV) ability to build apps upon the Health Internet stack for consumer consumption (e.g., health & wellness services, PHRs, etc.). In June, we attended the NHIN CONNECT conference and our write-up provides a few more specifics on the Health Internet.

At the ITdotHealth event many of the participants (Google Health, HealthVault, MinuteClinic, etc.) stated that they “are in” and are willing to work with the feds to insure that their respective platforms/services will be able to readily connect to and exchange PHI upon a consumer’s request over the Health Internet.  Even EMR giant Cerner voted tentative support for the idea if the Health Internet would assist them in helping their customers (clinicians, clinics, hospitals) meet some of the forthcoming meaningful use criteria that is now being formulated by CMS – Chopra at the June CONNECT event and Park at this one basically inferred that providing the capability for an EHR to connect to the Health Internet would address some aspects of meaningful use.