Connectathon takes new direction

Aims to foster collaboration among interoperability efforts
By John Andrews
05:00 AM
Interoperability is king at the 2014 IHE North American Connectathon.

The Office of the National Coordinator  had a place at the table for the 15th annual IHE North American Connectathon, and it was filled by Doug Fridsma, MD, chief science officer and director of the ONC’s Office of Science and Technology and four members of his team. They were championing an effort called New Directions designed to foster cooperation among interoperability leaders.

The event, Jan. 27-31, in the basement of  the Hyatt Regency in Chicago drew more than 100 health IT companies eager to test their interoperability prowess.

[See also: Stage set for big interoperability push.]

As keynote speaker for the IHE North American Connectathon Conference on Jan. 29, Fridsma emphasized pulling together the interoperability initiative into a cohesive movement with concrete goals and strategy. He added, however,that “too many people see interoperability as a destination, and it isn’t – it should be about the ability to exchange and use information.”

In his program The Value of Universal Interoperability, Eric Heflin, chief technology officer of McLean, Va.-based Healtheway, called the New Directions initiative “history being made.” ONC is part of an industry-wide effort to harmonize various groups on the interoperability front, bringing together disparate entities from government, non-profit and commercial sectors.

“We’re still talking about what is taking so long with interoperability and why it has taken so much money to get the data flowing,” Heflin said. “The answer is with New Directions.”

ONC’s presence at the Connectathon came about from fortuitous timing, and Fridsma said his team is eager to play a positive role.

“We are here so we can leverage support for interoperability,” he said. “It is an opportunity to work together in the spirit of collaboration – now is the right time to come together to figure out ways to make it work.”

[See also: Plugfest to join Connectathon.]

Windy City wind-up
As the IHE North American Connectathon celebrates its 15th year, the burgeoning healthcare interoperability event is winding up its stint in the Windy City, the place it has called home since the beginning.

Starting in 2015, the Connectathon demonstrations will be held at the HIMSS Innovation Center in Cleveland.

As it has been for the previous 14 years, the Connectathon was a hive of activity this year, serving as a platform for EHR companies to test their interoperability prowess. The tests ran from basic data exchange for vendors new to the event up to sophisticated exercises in clinical analysis and complex medical device testing. The event tested radiology data transmission in its first five years before adding IT infrastructure 10 years ago.

“Today is a very busy day,” Bill Majurski, computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and lead monitor for testing said at the halfway point of the schedule. “The pros are making leaps and bounds, while the new companies are finding out if they studied hard enough for the final exam. More than likely, they are learning that interoperability is harder than they thought.”

Majurski remembers the first Connectathon, held in an empty parking garage in suburban Chicago. After the first three years in what was essentially an outdoor venue, he half-jokingly referred to progress as “moving indoors to the basement of the Hyatt Regency,” where it has been held ever since.

In assessing the strides that have been made at the Connectathon over the years, Majurski didn’t hesitate to say “more synergy and collaboration.”