Certification new focus of Connectathon

IHE USA, ICSA Labs lay out interoperability requirements
By Patty Enrado
09:57 AM
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When participants of the 2013 North American Connectathon gather at the Hyatt Regency Chicago from January 28 through February 4, they will have the opportunity to test their products under a new certification program that ensures their wares are secure and interoperable with other health IT solutions.

IHE USA, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the Connectathon, and ICSA Labs,  an independent division of Verizon that provides third-party testing and certification of security and health IT products, have combined their core capabilities to deliver the new program, which is designed to align with current conformance testing to IHE integration profiles.

[See also: IHE's Connectathon shows interoperability 'coming of age']

IHE USA has been developing profiles for interoperability for more than a decade.

"It's great now to be able to leverage that body of work, but also to put a marker down and say here are the requirements for certification. This is the formalization of the process and the work that needs to be done to help move the industry even farther," said Joyce Sensmeier, president of IHE USA and vice president of informatics at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

"It's important to have both the private and public sectors working in synch on this as we realize the meaningful use requirements have been an incentive for the industry to move forward in interoperability," she said. But, those requirements don’t take the industry very far down the path, which puts the private sector in a position to "help move the bar," she added.

ICSA Labs' core business for more than 20 years has been security testing and certification for network security products. "This is a good example of where the industry came together with the consumers in mind to stand up these programs," said Stephen Gaus, Manager of Business Development. He pointed out that the private sector can provide the fast start that the industry requires.

[See also: Connectathon hits its stride]

Amit Trivedi, Healthcare Program Manager at ICSA Labs, noted that while the ONC (Office of the National Coordinator) is providing baselines, standards, vocabularies and a roadmap that help with health IT adoption, testing and certification will benefit vendors who are innovating on top of this baseline. "We're trying to go above and beyond the baseline with this program," he said.

The announcement, which was made at the Mobile Health Summit in December, was well received. While the program is at the beginning stages, Sensmeier hopes the vendor community uses the certification as a differentiator in the marketplace. "We recognize the credibility of the ICSA Labs testing and certification processes, which helps add a layer of value, to both vendors and consumers," she said.

Certification often allows new security products instant market credibility, this can help garner venture capital funding, according to Gaus. Ultimately buyers are able to make more informed buying decisions regarding the interoperability, security and functionality of health IT products. "Certification is going to be important not only for the healthcare IT vendor community but the healthcare IT community at large," Trivedi said.

The program is open to those already registered for the Connectathon so they can expand on what they were planning to test. The pilot will enable IHE USA and ICSA Labs to validate and learn lessons to be able to extend the program to future Connectathons and a virtual environment as well, according to Sensmeier.

Looking ahead, Trivedi envisions testing being applicable to non-EHR health IT products that are vital to the ecosystem, including health information exchange repositories, medical devices, radiology systems, and so on. "It's our intent to pursue certification for the wide array of products that join the Connectathon event," he said.

"We'd clearly like to see this grow both in terms of number of participants, as well as the natural progression of the certification and testing," Gaus said. The infrastructure is in place to scale the program beyond one week in January to accommodate product releases that occur throughout the year. "This certification will help the health IT community make better decisions when it comes to selecting and implementing systems that will work for them," he said.

"Our whole purpose at IHE USA is to advance interoperability, and getting certified technology, certified systems in products that are being used in the real world is critically important," Sensmeier said. According to two October 2012 reports by the Bipartisan Policy Center, 70 percent of clinicians in a survey reported that interoperability is the major barrier to information sharing. "We want to address that concern and advance the industry to securely exchange information so patient care can be delivered with informed clinicians at the point of care and even the patients themselves can see what is going on with their healthcare records by accessing their own information," she said. "This [program] is a major step forward."