Long, winding road for IHE

Proven to be dependable path to interoperability

At the Radiological Society of North America’s annual conference this year, a real-world use case of Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) medical image and personal health record standards is slated for demonstration.

IHEs road leading up to RSNA 2012, however has been a long and involved one.

Back in 1998, HIMSS and the Radiological Society of North America created Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE), in an effort to coax some more efficiency into health IT systems and help them communicate — or, as the industry speaks now, become interoperable.

As the U.S. healthcare system faced financial and technological challenges in healthcare over the past decade, IHE has been one much-needed vehicle for interoperability, with its frameworks helping organizations develop health IT integration plans, through the use of standards like DICOM and HL7.

IHE helped assemble the HL7 Consolidated CDA standards, and some IHE specifications have been incorporated into the National eHealth Collaborative.

There’s been quite a bit of progress in the last decade, said Joyce Sensmeier, VP of informatics at HIMSS, who’s led much of the consensus-driven IHE initiative.

In 2011 interoperability was listed as the main challenge to success in the annual HIMSS survey of nurse informaticists — a sign that health systems are increasingly expanding their focus beyond simply adopting electronic health record systems.

“To have nurses saying that is a huge statement,” Sensmeier said. Five years after the passage of the HITECH Act, the survey hinted at a greater consciousness of information’s importance to the healthcare industry, and it was supported by a Bipartisan Policy Center poll finding similar interoperability concerns among physicians.

“The next wave is really getting the data where you need it, and that requires integration,” Sensmeier said.

Another collective step forward was the 2011 start of the Care Connectivity Consortium, a health information exchange between the Mayo Clinic, Geisinger, Kaiser Permanente, Intermountain Healthcare and Group Health.

IHE’s advancement of interoperability has evolved through the input of clinicians, IT professionals, hospital executives, vendors and other stakeholders, and IHE’s annual Connectathon, where vendors integrate health IT platforms, has been been a yearly application of best available health IT practices and technologies.

The 2013 Connectathon, being held in late January in Chicago, will have interoperability tests for nine IHE international domains, including in anatomic pathology, radiology, patient coordination, pharmacy benefits and patient care devices.

IHE is also offering testing of the HL7 Consolidated CDA standards at the 2013 Connectathon.

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