Connectathon is where rubber meets road

By John Andrews
01:59 PM
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Described by one participant as "the greatest assembly of engineering talent in one room," the IHE North American Connectathon strove hard to advance healthcare interoperability to new levels during demonstrations held in January.

With more than 500 engineers working on 161 systems, the demonstrations represent the healthcare industry's largest interoperability testing event. Since 1999, Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) has been working toward industry interoperability, and the event has grown in breadth and scope since its humble origins, says Michael Nusbaum, president of M.H. Nusbaum & Associates of Victoria, B.C.

"As the event grows, so does its relevance to the healthcare IT industry," said Nusbaum, who served as a "tour guide" for the event. "More participants in Connectathon testing means that more vendors are better equipped to offer interoperability to their customers. With hundreds of engineers representing hundreds of companies that normally compete fiercely in the marketplace, they are instead collaborating around interoperability in all their products for an intensive week. These visionaries see interoperability as an expectation, not a marketing advantage."

IHE is known as "the grandfather of interoperability standards" and the Connectathon uses the IHE foundation for data transfer exercises. After each vendor test is conducted, a team of IHE volunteers review and validate the results. Michael Glickman, president of Rockville, Md.-based Computer Network Architects, says the tests are rigid and vendors must conduct intensive preparations well before the Connectathon even begins.

"They can't just show up and hope it works," he said.

Bill Majurski, computer scientist for the National Institute for Standards and Technology served as the ultimate arbiter of the test results and equated the Connectathon to a "final exam." Overall, he said vendor participants have only improved with time.

"Five years ago it was related to sharing part of a document," he said. "Now it is serious stuff. They are growing up."

Minneapolis-based VitalHealth was a first-time participant in this year's Connectathon, drawn by the industry's increasing emphasis on interoperability. Arjen Westerink, director of marketing, said he was encouraged by his company's performance.

"We've had some minor anomalies, but nothing to be concerned about," he said. "This experience has provided good input for our roadmap."

Still, the testing environment could be tense at times, Westerink conceded. The vendors are definitely put through some demanding paces, he said. "There is no room for vagaries here."