Direct Project Should Reach Most US States By Summer

Posted on June 25, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

It’s looking like a victory for the Direct Project, the clinical messaging protocol designed to make information sharing easier for providers. ONC reports that state HIE grantees in almost 30 states are using the Direct Project protocol, with a dozen more planning to kick off Direct within the next month or two.

As many readers may know, providers can send Direct Project messages using traditional e-mail.  Messages are packaged using MIME extensions, protected by S/MIME encryption and signatures.  Messages are authenticated on both ends using X.509 digital signatures.  All told, it’s not only a “direct” way of sharing information, it’s a relatively simple one too.

How are providers using Direct?  Here’s a few examples, courtesy of FierceHealthIT:

  • In Florida, hospitals are using Direct to send newborn hearing screening test results to a state agency, which sends back confirmation of the state-mandated screening tests by the same route.
  • In California, Redwood MedNet, an HIE in northern California, and St. Joseph Health System in Orange County are collaborating on a project to use Direct to improve care coordination for newborns
  • In Guam, the Guam HIE and the Department of Veterans Affairs are employing Direct to refer patients to providers for mammograms and are looking to expand the use of the protocol to all referrals.

Enthusiasm for Direct seems to vary across different parts of the country. For example, none of the northeastern states have gone live on Direct yet, while Wisconsin, Delaware, Arkansas Illinois, California, Florida and West Virginia have already signed up 300 or more providers, FHIT notes.

Don’t know about you folks, but I’m excited by this news. I think we’re seeing the beginnings of some really significant change. Yes, like most of us, I’d like to see full-scale, enterprise-class data sharing, but billions of bucks and years of development lay between us in that goal in many cases.  Let’s appreciate what we’ve got, eh?