Direct Project enjoys growing popularity

By Mike Miliard
10:26 AM
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The ONC announced earlier this week that more than 60 healthcare and health IT organizations – from EHR vendors to integrated delivery systems to state-based and private-sector HIEs – have expressed their support for the Direct Project's simple and secure messaging protocols.

Officials say the broad reach of so many players nationwide is helping the project, within just a year of its conception, reach its goal of providing healthcare stakeholders with universal addressing and universal access to secure direct messaging of health information.

[See also: ONC launches Direct Project with pilots in Minn., R.I.]

A complete list of participating organizations, including states, health information exchanges, and health IT vendors, is available on the Direct Project website.

Support for the Direct Project represents nearly 90 percent of market share covered by the participating IT vendors. With more than 20 states signing on, nearly half of the U.S. population can now benefit from the speed and efficiency promised by Direct protocols' growing integration into the national health IT ecosystem.

As Sean Nolan, chief architect and general manager of Microsoft Health Solutions Group, and one of the leaders on the project, told Healthcare IT News in February, it stands "to be the first technology that could really kill the fax in healthcare."

The ONC convened the Direct Project to expand the existing specifications incorporated in the Nationwide Health Information Network to be as inclusive as possible for any caregiver – regardless of the technology used or the size of the organization.

The result of the collaborative, which harnessed both public and private-sector resources, is a set of specifications for simple and directed messages among caregivers and to patients.

A primary care doctor in the U.S. on average has to coordinate care with 229 doctors across 117 different practices. The Direct Project helps address the technology interoperability challenge created by needing to coordinate with such a large group of diverse organizations.

It does so by fulfilling the promise of a real-time secure electronic transport mechanism for referrals and clinical documentation, integrated into the health care workflows and systems across different settings of care, enabling EHR to EHR direct message transport.

[See also: NHIN Direct: Getting to the Health Internet, Finally!]

The Direct Project recently announced the release of two specifications and a draft compatibility statement that will help stakeholders create software that can speak with other Direct-enabled products and will help organizations deploy that software. The specifications documents help define and shape the wider adoption of Direct Project technology by healthcare stakeholders.

The Applicability Statement for Simple Health Transport outlines the core requirements for a system to declare itself a fully qualified and compliant Health Information Service Provider, or HISP. The Direct Project Compliance Statement (in draft) addresses the universality of Direct Project messaging. It defines the conditions to participate in universal addressing and transport. The XDR and XDM for Direct Messaging Specification defines a specific gateway solution between the core Direct Project specification and senders and receivers who use IHE specifications.

The Direct Project is now focused on finalizing specifications, engaging with the states, organizations, and vendors, and coordinating with the IHE profiles to expand the applicability and value of the  project's specs into a wide variety of use cases.