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A Circular Chat On Healthcare Interoperability

Posted on September 6, 2016 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.

About a week ago, a press release on health data interoperability came into my inbox. I read it over and shook my head. Then I pinged a health tech buddy for some help. This guy has seen it all, and I felt pretty confident that he would know whether there was any real news there.

And this is how our chat went.

—-

“So you got another interoperability pitch from one of those groups. Is this the one that Cerner kicked off to spite Epic?” he asked me.

“No, this is the one that Epic and its buddies kicked off to spite Cerner,” I told him. “You know, health data exchange that can work for anyone that gets involved.”

“Do you mean a set of technical specs? Maybe that one that everyone seems to think is the next big hope for application-based data sharing? The one ONC seems to like.” he observed. “Or at least it did during the DeSalvo administration.”

“No, I mean the group working on a common technical approach to sharing health data securely,” I said. “You know, the one that lets doctors send data straight to another provider without digging into an EMR.”

“You mean that technology that supports underground currency trading? That one seems a little bit too raw to support health data trading,” he said.

“Maybe so. But I was talking about data-sharing standards adopted by an industry group trying to get everyone together under one roof,” I said. “It’s led by vendors but it claims to be serving the entire health IT world. Like a charity, though not very much.”

“Oh, I get it. You must be talking about the industry group that throws that humungous trade show each year.” he told me. “A friend wore through two pairs of wingtips on the trade show floor last year. And he hardly left his booth!”

“Actually, I was talking about a different industry group. You know, one that a few top vendors have created to promote their approach to interoperability.” I said. “Big footprint. Big hopes. Big claims about the future.”

“Oh yeah. You’re talking about that group Epic created to steal a move from Cerner.” he said.

“Um, sure. That must have been it,” I told him. “I’m sure that’s what I meant.”

—-

OK, I made most of this up. You’ve got me. But it is a pretty accurate representation of how most conversations go when I try to figure out who has a chance of actually making interoperability happen. (Of course, I added some snark for laughs, but not much, believe it or not.)

Does this exchange sound familiar to anyone else?

And if it does, is it any wonder we don’t have interoperability in healthcare?

The State of “Direct Project” in Healthcare

Posted on December 7, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Update: Here is the recorded version of this Direct Project panel:

and here’s the video of the Q&A with the audience that followed:

As part of our ongoing series of Healthcare Scene interviews (see all our past Healthcare Scene interviews on YouTube), we’re excited to announce our next interview with an amazing panel of Direct Project experts, Julie Maas, Greg Meyer, and Mark Hefner happening Wednesday, December 9th at 3 PM ET (Noon PT).

As you can imagine, we’ll be digging into everything Direct Project (See CMS’ description of Direct Project for those not famliar with it). I’m excited to learn about ways Direct Project is starting to impact healthcare, but also to learn about the challenges it still faces and how they can be overcome. We’ll probably even dip into where Direct Project fits in with other projects like FHIR and EHR APIs getting all the attention.


Here are a few more details about our panelists:

You can watch our interview on Blab or in the embed below. We’ll be interviewing our panelists for the first 30-40 minutes of the blab and then we’ll open up to the audience for questions for the rest of the hour. We hope you can join us live. We’ll also share the recorded video after the event.

Taking a New Look at the Lamented Personal Health Record: Flow Health’s Debut

Posted on June 8, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

After the disappointing lack of adoption suffered by Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault, many observers declared personal health records (PHRs) a non-starter, while others predicted that any progress toward personal control over health data would require a radically new approach.

Several new stabs at a PHR are emerging, of which Flow Health shows several promising traits. The company tries to take advantage of–and boost the benefits of–advances in IT standards and payment models. This article is based on a conversation I had with their general counsel, David Harlow, who is widely recognized as the leading legal expert in health IT and health privacy and who consults with companies in those spaces through the Harlow Group.

Because records are collected by doctors, not patients, the chief hurdle any PHR has to overcome is to persuade the health care providers to relinquish sole control over the records they squirrel away in their local EHR silos. Harlow believes the shift to shared risk and coordinated care is creating the incentive for doctors to share. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services is promising to greatly increase the role of pay-for-value, and a number of private insurers have promised to do so as well. In short, Flow Health can make headway if the tangible benefit of learning about a patient’s recent hospital discharge or treating chronic conditions while the patient remains at home start to override the doctor’s perception that she can benefit by keeping the patient’s data away from competitors.

The next challenge is technically obtaining the records. This is facilitated first by the widespread move to electronic records (a legacy of Meaningful Use Stage 1) and the partial standardization of these records in the C-CDA. Flow Health recognizes both the C-CDA and Blue Button, as well as using the Direct protocol to obtain records. Harlow says that FHIR will be supported when the standard settles down.

But none of that is enough to offer Flow Health what the doctors and patients really want, which is a unified health record containing all the information given by different providers. Therefore, like other companies trying to broaden access to patient data, Flow Health must deal with the problem that Dr. Eric Topol recently termed the Tower of EMR Babel. They study each format produced by different popular EHRs (each one using the C-CDA in slightly incompatible ways) and convert the data into a harmonized format. This allows Flow Health to then reconcile records when a diagnosis, a medication list, or some other aspect of the patient’s health is represented differently in different records.

What’s next for Flow Health? Harlow said they are preparing an API to let third parties add powerful functionality, such as care coordination and patient access from any app of their choice. Flow Health is already working closely with payers and providers to address workflow challenges, thus accelerating the aggregation of patient health record data for access and use by clinicians and patients.

A relative of mine could have used something like Flow Health recently when her eye doctor referred her to the prestigious Lahey Clinic in the Boston area. First of all, the test that led to the referral had to be repeated at the Lahey Clinic, because the eye doctor did not forward test results. Nor did anyone provide a medication list, so the Lahey Clinic printed out a five-year old medication list that happened to hang around from a visit long ago and asked her to manually update it. There was also confusion about what her insurer would cover, but that’s a different matter. All this took place in 2015, in the country’s leading region for medical care.

It seems inevitable that–as Flow Health hopes–patients will come to demand access to their medical records. A slew of interesting experiments will proliferate, like Flow Health and the rather different vision of Medyear to treat health information like a social network feed. Patient-generated data, such as the output from fitness devices and home sensors, will put yet more pressure on health care providers to take the patient seriously as a source of information. And I’ll continue to follow developments.

Assessment Released of Health Information Exchanges (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on January 7, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The previous installment of this article talked about the survivability of HIEs, drawing on a report released under ONC auspices. This installment delves into some other interesting aspects of information exchange.

Data Ownership and Privacy Raise Their Heads
Whenever data is a topic, policy issues around ownership and privacy cannot be dismissed. The HIE report does not address them directly, but they peek out from behind questions of how all this stuff gets stored.

Two essential strategies allow data sharing. In the simpler strategy, the HIE vacuums up data from all the providers who join. In a more subtle and supple strategy, known as a federated system, the HIE leaves the data at the providers and just provides connectivity. For instance, the HIE report explains that some HIEs store enough data to identify patients and list the providers who have data on them (this uses a master patient index, which solves the common problem of matching a patient). Once a patient is matched, the HIE retrieves relevant data from each provider.

The advantage of the vacuum suction strategy is that, once an HIE has all the data in one place, it can efficiently run analytics across a humongous data set and deliver the highly desirable analytics and planning that make the HIE attractive to clients. But this strategy brings significant risk as well.

Programmers and administrators in the computer field have long understood the classic problem of copying data: if you keep two or more copies of data, they can get out of sync. The HIE report recognizes this weakness, indicating that HIEs storing patient data can get outdated (p. 12). According to the report, “Stakeholders reported it is very damaging to the reputation of state efforts when provider queries return insufficient results, leading users to conclude the system is not useful.” (p. 17) In fact, some HIEs don’t even know when a patient has died (p. 20).

Another classic problem of copying data is that it forces the HIE to maintain a huge repository, along with enough server power and bandwidth to handle requests. This in turn raises costs and drives away potential clients. Success in such cases can be self-defeating: if you really do offer convenient query facilities and strong analytic power, demands will increase dramatically. Larger facilities, which (as I’ve said) are more attractive to HIEs, will also use data in more highly developed and sophisticated ways, which will lead to more requests banging on the HIE’s door. It’s no whim that Amazon Web Services, the leading cloud offering in the computer field, imposes limits on data transferred, as well as other uses of the system.

Thus the appeal of federated systems. However, they are technically more complex. More significantly, their success or failure rests on standardization more than a vacuum suction strategy. If you have a hundred different providers using a couple dozen different and incompatible EHRs, it’s easier to provide one-way channels that vacuum up EHR data than to upgrade all the EHRs to engage in fine-grained communication. Indeed, incomplete standards were identified as a burden on HIEs (p. 19). Furthermore, data isn’t clean: it’s entered inconsistently by different providers, or in different fields (p. 20). This could be solved by translation facilities.

What intrigues me about the federated approach is that the very possibility of its use puts providers on the defensive over their control of patient data. If an HIE gets a federated system to work, there is little reason to leave data at the provider instead of putting it under the control of the patient. Now that Apple’s HealthKit and similar initiatives put patient health records back on the health care agenda, patient advocates can start pushing for a form of HIE that gives patients back their data.

What Direction for Direct Project?
The Direct project was one of the proudest achievements of the health IT reforms unleashed by the HITECH act. It was open source software developed in a transparent manner, available to all, and designed to use email so even the least technically able health care provider could participate in the program. But Direct may soon become obsolete.

It’s still best for providers without consistent Internet access, but almost anyone with an always-on Internet connection could do better. The HIE report says that in some places, “Direct use is low because providers must access the secure messaging system through a web portal instead of through their EHRs.” (p. 11)

A recent article uncovered the impedances put up by EHR vendors to prevent Direct from working. The HIE report bolstered this assessment (pp. 19-20). As for DirectTrust (also covered by the article’s reporter), even though it was meant to solve connectivity problems, it could turn into yet another silo because it requires providers to sign up and not all do so.

Ideally, health information exchange would disappear quietly into a learning health care system. The ONC-sponsored report shows how far we are from this vision. At the same time, it points to a few ways forward: more engagement with providers (pp. 14, 25), more services that add value to patient care, tighter standards. With some of these advances, the health care field may find the proper architecture and funding model for data exchange.

Assessment Released of Health Information Exchanges (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on January 6, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Like my Boston-area neighbors who perennially agonize over the performance of the Red Sox, healthcare advocates spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about Health Information Exchanges (HIEs). Will the current round of exchanges work after most previous attempts failed? What results can be achieved from the 564 million dollars provided by the Office of the National Coordinator since 2009? Has the effort invested by the government and companies in the Direct project paid off, and why haven’t some providers signed up yet?

I too was consumed by such thoughts when reading a reported contracted by the ONC and released in December, “HIE Program Four Years Later: Key Findings on Grantees’ Experiences from a Six-State Review. Although I found their complicated rating system a bit arbitrary, I found several insights in the 42-page report and recommend it to readers. I won’t try to summarize it here, but will use some of the findings to illuminate–and perhaps harp on–issues that come up repeatedly in the HIE space.
Read more..

How Trust Communities Enable Direct Networks

Posted on June 13, 2014 I Written By

Julie Maas is Founder and CEO of EMR Direct, a HISP (Health Information Service Provider) whose mission is to simplify interoperability in healthcare through the use of Direct messaging EHR integration and other applications. EMR Direct works with a large developer community to enable Direct for MU2 and other workflows using a custom, rapid-integration API that's part of the phiMail Direct Messaging platform. Julie is passionate about improving quality of care and software user experience, and manages ongoing interoperability testing within DirectTrust. Find Julie on Twitter @JulieWMaas.

Have you noticed the DTAAP-Accredited logos on your Direct provider’s web site?  These indicate the vendor has successfully completed the related audits stipulating a high bar of security and privacy practices established by DirectTrust.  DirectTrust was spawned from a Direct Project workgroup, and is a non-profit trade organization which establishes best practices and oversees accreditation programs for the businesses providing Direct-related services, in association with EHNAC.  In addition to HISPs, the DTAAP program also accredits Certification Authorities (CAs) and Registration Authorities (RAs). The HISP, CA and RA roles can be performed by the same organization. Most Direct Messaging CAs operate in only in the Direct space, but a few also issue certificates in the general public internet space, as well.

Direct Certificates are issued by CAs who follow a regular procedure to put their stamp of approval on a digital identity and its corresponding cryptographic key used for securing Direct messages.  This process is complemented by that of a Registration Authority, who performs the actual vetting of individuals and often the archival of related documentation as well.  Level of Assurance (LoA) is another term used a lot in the Direct space. Depending on the degree to which an individual’s identity has been vetted, and how certificates are managed and accessed by users, a Direct Exchange transaction can be assigned a Level of Assurance. When exchanging health information between providers, for example, you want a high Level of Assurance that the party you’re exchanging with is, in fact, the same party whose name is listed on the corresponding digital certificate.

HISPs who are either accredited or are at least part-way down that path may seek inclusion of the corresponding CA’s trust anchor in DirectTrust’s anchor bundle, a collection of trust anchors for Direct communication published and regularly updated by DirectTrust.  Since Direct messaging is based on bidirectional trust, the Participating HISPs can rely on the Transitional Trust Bundle to provide their customers with a uniform and up-to-date network of interconnected senders and receivers. The DirectTrust bundle consists of trust anchors representing a large portion of the EHR community.

These HISPs make up the DirectTrust Network, a so-called “trust community”. There are other trust communities such as those managed by the Automate the BlueButton Initiative (ABBI), with corresponding Provider- and Patient-centered bundles.  Trust communities and their corresponding trust bundles serve an important purpose, because Direct messages are only exchanged successfully between trusted Direct Exchange partners. Remember that if one party does not trust the other, the messages are dropped silently, and automating loading and maintenance of trust anchors for a community using a trust bundle sure beats manual loading and unloading of each of these anchors by each of the members, or other old-style one-off interfaces between systems.

So, to get the most out of Direct, climb out of your silo and go join a trust community today!

 

Direct Messaging: The Logistics of Exchange

Posted on June 12, 2014 I Written By

Julie Maas is Founder and CEO of EMR Direct, a HISP (Health Information Service Provider) whose mission is to simplify interoperability in healthcare through the use of Direct messaging EHR integration and other applications. EMR Direct works with a large developer community to enable Direct for MU2 and other workflows using a custom, rapid-integration API that's part of the phiMail Direct Messaging platform. Julie is passionate about improving quality of care and software user experience, and manages ongoing interoperability testing within DirectTrust. Find Julie on Twitter @JulieWMaas.

Once you enable digital health data exchange via Direct instead of by fax, you’ll want to share your address with other providers, so you no longer have to deal with all those pesky scanned attachments, subtly linked to electronic patient records.

Direct directories are enabling address lookup to meet this need, and you can also let your most common business partners know your address by including it on document templates you already exchange today, so they can begin to exchange with you via Direct when they’re ready.  You can also contact your referring docs using another method you trust (such as the fax where you usually send them medical records, or their business phone number) to ask for their Direct address.

It’s wise to confirm expectations with exchange partners about the use cases/data payloads for which you intend to exchange via Direct, as Direct isn’t used just like email by everyone.  Some will use Direct solely for Transitions of Care and patient Transmit, others may use it for Secure Messaging with patients, and still other providers will be happy to conduct general professional correspondence with patients and other providers over Direct.  This service information may or may not be reflected in the first provider directories.  And even within the Transitions of Care use case, if standards aren’t implemented for optimal receiving, a sending system may generate a CCDA (Continuity of Care Document) with a subtly different structure than a receiving system is able to completely digest.  So, just a heads up as you receive your first message or two from a system with whom you haven’t exchanged before: you’ll want to carefully monitor what data is incorporated by the receiving system and what is not, and you may need to iterate slightly between sender and receiver to get the data consumption right.  You’ll still be miles ahead of the custom interfaces model.

All in all, Direct is easy to use and is working much better than the naysayers would have you believe.  Direct software follows the specification outlined in the document lovingly known in the industry as the “Applicability Statement”, crafted by consensus through a public/private collaborative effort known as the “Direct Project” and led by the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONC).   Direct Project volunteers have also written reference implementations following this specification which have been used by many HISPs and EHRs as the basis for their own Direct offerings.  Other private entities have developed their own APIs and implementations of the protocol from scratch.  These different systems and varying configurations regularly test and collaborate with each other, to make Direct work as seamlessly as possible for the end users.  Because the whole system only works as well as our joint efforts, HISPs (Health Information Service Providers who provide Direct services) within the DirectTrust Network take interoperability seriously and work together to iron out any kinks.

A tremendous amount of collaboration is taking place to bring interoperability to fruition for Direct’s well-established standards and policies, and this work is producing a larger and more robust network each day.

What is Direct?

Posted on June 10, 2014 I Written By

Julie Maas is Founder and CEO of EMR Direct, a HISP (Health Information Service Provider) whose mission is to simplify interoperability in healthcare through the use of Direct messaging EHR integration and other applications. EMR Direct works with a large developer community to enable Direct for MU2 and other workflows using a custom, rapid-integration API that's part of the phiMail Direct Messaging platform. Julie is passionate about improving quality of care and software user experience, and manages ongoing interoperability testing within DirectTrust. Find Julie on Twitter @JulieWMaas.

John’s Update: Check out the full series of Direct Project blog posts by Julie Maas:

The specialist down the street insists he wants to receive your primary care doctor’s referrals, but only if it’s digital: “Sure, I’ll take your paper file referral sent via fax. But the service will cost an extra $20, to pay the scribe to digitize the record so I can properly incorporate the medical history.”

Does it really sound that far off? Search your feelings, Luke…

Will getting medical treatment using paper records soon be like trying to find somewhere to play that old mix tape you only have on cassette?  Sound crazy?  Try taking an x-ray film to a modern radiology department, and see if they still have a functioning light box anywhere to look at it.  It’s all digital now.

There are, of course, other factors.

Because MU2.

Because nobody, and I mean no small company and no large company, wants to be referred to as a data silo anymore.

Direct Exchange is a way of sending and receiving encrypted healthcare data, and certified EHRs must be able to speak it, beginning this year.  Adoption of Direct is increasing rapidly, and its secure transfer enables patient engagement as well as interoperability between systems that were previously dubbed silos.  Here is a brief overview of where Direct is currently required in the context of MU2 (please refer to certification and attestation requirements directly, for full details):

Certified ambulatory and acute EHRs need to use Direct for Transitions of Care (170.314(b)(1) and (b)(2)). They have to be able to Create a valid CCDA and Transmit it using Direct, and they have to be able to use Direct to Receive, Display, and Incorporate a CCDA. In the proposed MU 2015, the Direct piece may be de-coupled from the CCDA piece and modularized for certification purposes, but the end to end requirement would remain the same.

EHRs or their patient portal partner additionally need to demonstrate during certification that patients can View, Download, and Transmit via Direct their CCDA or a human readable version of it.  Yes, you heard correctly, I said patients.  As in patient engagement.

So, how does a healthcare provider get Direct?

1. Get a Direct account through your Direct-enabled EHR vendor

One way HIT vendors offer Direct is through a partnership with one or more HISPs (OpenEMR, QRS, Greenway, and others).  Others run their own HISPs (Cerner, athenahealth, and others).

2. Get a Direct account through an XD* HISP that’s connected to your EHR

HIT vendors alternatively enable access to Direct through an XD* plug-and-play (mostly) connector.  These “HISP-agnostic” EHRs allow healthcare organizations a choice between multiple XD*-capable HISPs when meeting MU2 measures (MEDITECH, Epic, Quadramed, and other EHRs have implemented Direct this way).  EMR Direct, MaxMD, Inpriva, and a few other HISPs offer XD* HISP services; not every HISP offers XD* service at this time.  Of course, there is a trade-off between this flexibility and the extra legwork required of the practice or hospital in setting up Direct.

3. Get a web-based or email client-based Direct account not tethered to an EHR or Personal Health Record (PHR)

 

Direct doesn’t have to be integrated into an EHR to transfer information digitally. Non-tethered accounts cannot attest to the sending side of (b)(2) nor the receiving side of (b)(1) on their own, but they can be Direct senders and receivers nonetheless, participating in Transitions of Care or data transfer for other purposes.  They may also be used to exchange health data with patients, billing companies, pharmacies, or other healthcare entities who are Direct-enabled. In fact, some very compelling use cases involve systems who may not have their own EHR, but want to receive digital transitions of care—one such example is skilled nursing facilities.

By the way, patients are also an integral part of the Direct ecosystem.  Several PHRs are already Direct-enabled, and more are on the way.

So, go digital and get your Direct address, and begin interoperating in the modern age!

Next Week’s Guest Blogger – Julie Maas from EMR Direct

Posted on June 6, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Next week, it’s going to be a little different around here. Next week, I’m going to be spending the week at Zions National Park as part of a family reunion. We did this a couple years back and unless things have changed, I’ll be stuck completely off the grid with no wifi or even cell coverage (Although, I may slip into town one day to check my email). Should be quite the experience.

I’ve actually done this a few times before and you probably didn’t know it. I just schedule the posts to appear and no one even realized I was gone. In fact, when I’ve done it in the past, I’ve had some of my highest traffic days on the blog. Don’t ask me how that works.

Next week, I decided to do something a little bit different. When I first started blogging, I remember a blogger “turning over the keys” to his blog to another blogger for the week. I always thought that was a kind of cool idea. Usually the person who “drives” the blog for the week enjoys it, the readers get another perspective, and the blog keeps humming while I’m wrestling 4 children and 12 cousins in the wilderness.

While I’m away, I’m handing the keys over to my favorite HIMSS 2014 discovery, Julie Maas. Before HIMSS this year, I’d certainly interacted with Julie a number of times on Twitter, but I’d never really gotten to know her and what she did. Needless to say, once I met her in person and heard her story I was utterly impressed with her and what she’s doing in healthcare IT. Side Lesson: Don’t judge a person solely by their Twitter account or Twitter interactions. There’s usually a lot more to them.

As I consider who I trusted with the keys to this blog, I wondered if Julie would be willing to share her knowledge, expertise and perspective. For those who don’t know Julie (shame on you), she’s been living, eating, breathing and sleeping the Direct Project for the company she started EMR Direct.

I’ve heard really promising things about Direct Project, but have never dug into it like I should have done. So, I’m as excited to read Julie’s series of posts next week as any of you. She’s also going to throw in a little Health Datapalooza commentary as well. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Direct Project after reading Julie’s posts.

I hope you’ll give Julie a warm welcome to the blog next week. If you like this idea, maybe we’ll do it again. If you hate it or Direct Project, then we’ll be back with our usual snark the week after.

Now, what’s the ICD-10 code for internet withdrawal?

One-Third of Chicago-Area Hospitals Come Together Into HIE

Posted on December 4, 2013 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.

Thirty-four Chicago hospitals have decided to come together into a health information exchange, with plans to begin exchanging data early next year, according to a story in Modern Healthcare.

The group, which calls itself MetroChicago HIE, considers itself to have critical mass, given that it embraces about a third of the region’s 89 hospitals.

To exchange data, the HIE is using Direct protocols permitting basic, encrypted clinical messaging, such as the transmission of referral letters between providers which have established authentication and business relationships, Modern Healthcare notes.

Even with Direct protocols in hand to streamline data sharing, the hospitals will face significant challenges in tightening communications between their various EMRs, which include a number of Epic and Cerner installations, as well as a few Meditech shops. Planners will also face issues when they set out to link the HIE to office-based physicians.

To address the problem of communicating between multiple interfaces, the HIE has hired technology firm SandLot Solutions, a company launched by North Texas Specialty Physicians.

To date, many hospitals have been reluctant to sink big bucks into HIE development. But participating hospitals in Chicago seem confident that there is a business case for spending on an HIE.

The truth is, this may just be a tipping point for hospital-run HIEs generally. For example, a recent study by HIMSS Analytics and ASG Software Solutions concluded that almost 70 percent of the 157 senior hospital IT execs surveyed were involved in HIE efforts.

Now, let’s see how these Chicago hospitals handle data exchange when they move beyond Direct into more advanced sharing. That will really be where the rubber hits the road.