Q&A with NIST interoperability contractor

Mario Hyland

When the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently awarded Aegis.Net a $6.25 million contract to test  standards and interoperability as part of meaningful use of electronic health records, it highlighted the rising importance of interoperability and data exchange.

The goal is to make sure that health IT systems have standards in place according to specifications and can effectively exchange information.

[See also: Interoperability still a barrier to meaningful use, experts find]

The initial emphasis of the NIST contract will be on testing the standards for meaningful use, but it will also provide test tools to support electronic health record communication and electronic clinical document exchanges, such as for e-prescribing, lab results, immunization and patient administration, as health care moves in that direction, according to a recent NIST announcement in Federal Business Opportunities. 

In another testing effort, Aegis.net is partnering with the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) to use its testing software, the Aegis Developers Integration Lab, to test interoperability for the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup, an effort led by the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC) that includes 15 states and 34 health information exchanges (HIEs). Aegis will work with CCHIT to make sure that the interfaces are consistent between the health IT and HIEs across multiple states and systems.

The open source Developers Integration Lab (DIL) is the heart of Aegis’ testing, according to Mario Hyland, senior vice president and founder of Rockville, Md.-based Aegis.Net Inc. Hyland spoke with Contributing Editor Mary Mosquera at the Oct. 17 conference of the Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent (OSEHRA), a nonprofit organization formed to modernize VistA for open source and to contribute to the VA-Defense Department’s integrated electronic health record (iEHR). Aegis.net is a participant.

Q: Why is interoperability so complicated?

[See also: eClinicalWorks invests $10M in interoperability project]

Hyland: What we have found technically is that even when people wrote good code, interoperability was a significant challenge. There are so many dependencies around the technical stack, the Web services, the software that the system was running on, the operating system, and various patch levels. If people were not aware of how they changed systems, they could actually break interoperability.

We need the developers testing while they are building, even the software as it is being built to be tested against future and backwards compatibility. The actual transport layer is critical. You cannot determine if anyone is compliant to a message specification if we can’t interoperate.

Q: What will Aegis.net provide the Interoperability Work Group multi-state, multi-HIE effort?

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