ONC launches Direct Project with pilots in Minn., R.I.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT announced Wednesday that providers and public health agencies in Minnesota and Rhode Island have begun securely exchanging health information online as part of the Direct Project.

The Direct Project establishes secure, scalable and standards-based specs to transfer medical data to trusted recipients over the Web.

Envisioned as an easy-to-use, Internet-based complement to the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), the Direct Project enables the encrypted "push" of health information from a sender to a known receiver – replacing paper-based mail and fax transmissions.

[See also: Vendors, policymakers discuss 'push' messaging.]

The ONC calls the Minnesota and Rhode Island pilots "a significant step" toward making health information exchange "accessible and practical for all the nation’s clinicians" in support of Stage 1 Meaningful Use requirements.

Speaking on a conference call Wednesday afternoon, IT chief David Blumenthal, MD, said that the "NHIN Direct Project is an essential element" in making the regular electronic exchange of patient data a reality nationwide.

Importantly, he said, it does so "not just for big sophisticated healthcare systems that have hot and cold running health information technology support, but for 'the little guy' – the solo practitioner, the storefront, the critical access hospital. Basically anyone in the world who can use the Internet."

The system, he said, is "simple and elegant and very meaningful for patients and their caretakers."

More pilots in the works
Direct Project pilot programs will also be launched soon in New York, Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and California to demonstrate the effectiveness of the streamlined Direct Project approach, which supports information exchange for core elements of patient care and public health reporting.
 
Designed as part of President Obama’s ‘open government’ initiative to drive rapid innovation, the Direct Project last year brought together some 200 participants from more than 60 companies and other organizations. The volunteers worked together to assemble consensus standards that support secure exchange of basic clinical information and public health data.

With pilot testing of information exchange based on Direct Project specifications being carried out on schedule this year, officials aim toward formal adoption of the standards and wide availability for providers by 2012.

[See also: ONC to begin NHIN Direct testing by year's end.]

Read more about the pilot projects to be launched this year, see next page.

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