Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Introducing NHIN Direct
Over the past 5 years, I've worked with many talented standards developers, implementation guide writers, and software vendor engineers. We've crafted use cases, selected standards, harmonized gaps/redundancies and written interoperability specifications.
I'm very happy with our achievements in content and vocabulary standards. We have excellent momentum and accelerating adoption.
Transmission is still an area requiring work. FHA Connect is a good start, but is challenging for small providers who have different use cases - the push of healthcare data from provider to provider, provider to payer, and provider to public health in support of Meaningful Use. Interoperability specifications and profiles for transmission have been written using combinations of existing standards from many SDOs. The resulting documents are not simple for smaller organizations with limited resources to use.
When I ask about creating simpler approaches, I'm told that these guides were the best that could be done to address the use cases with existing standards.
Here's a very controversial point - what if the standards we are starting with as we write interoperability specifications and profiles are not appropriate for creating simple, easy to use, internet-based data exchange that works for small organizations with limited resources?
The answer - we need a new, simpler approach that leverages REST, simple SOAP, and SMTP for data exchange. I believe NHIN Direct is that approach.
Here's a few highlights from the NHIN Direct FAQ page
What is NHIN Direct?
NHIN Direct is the set of standards, policies and services that enable simple, secure transport of health information between authorized care providers. NHIN Direct enables standards-based health information exchange in support of core Stage 1 Meaningful Use measures, including communication of summary care records, referrals, discharge summaries and other clinical documents in support of continuity of care and medication reconciliation, and communication of laboratory results to providers.
Why NHIN Direct?
There is a need to extend the NHIN to support a broader set of participants and providers through a simple, standards-based, widely deployed and well-supported method for providers to securely transport health information using the Internet in support of the core Meaningful Use outcomes and measures.
What is the relationship between NHIN Direct and the currently described NHIN Architecture?
The currently described NHIN Architecture describes a method for universal patient lookup and document discovery and exchange between National Health Information Organizations, including Federal providers such as the Veterans Health Administration, Department of Defense Military Health System, RHIOs, and large IDNs. NHIN Direct supports cases of pushed communication between providers, hospitals, laboratories, and other health settings of care.
The current members of the NHIN Collaborative will be able to support the NHIN Direct model, and providers and enabling organizations for NHIN Direct will scale to support to support the discovery and exchange use cases. Both models are required and will be in use at the same time for the same participants, depending on the information exchange needs.
Does NHIN Direct replace the current NHIN model? Or is NHIN Direct the current NHIN model on “training wheels”?
No. NHIN Direct and the current NHIN model support different use cases and are coequal in a system of robust nationwide health information exchange.
How will the specifications and standards for NHIN Direct be developed?
The specifications and standards will be developed in a rapid, open process intended to draw from a varied set of stakeholders representing both public and private providers and technology enablers.
What NHIN Direct doesn’t solve
In order to create rapid innovation, we are deliberately constraining the scope of NHIN Direct to a spare set of specifications and standards that solve a well-defined pain point. Unless a particular capability is essential to support the core use cases, we will leave it out or defer it to a later day. In doing so, we do not intent to devalue any particular health information exchange area or need, but merely to define a scope that both advances the state of nationwide health information exchange and is achievable in the short term.
How can I or my organization participate?
There are three basic ways to participate
1. A core group of NHIN Direct stakeholders will come together frequently from March through the end of the year to develop iteratively the core enabling specifications and service descriptions, and test those specifications with working code in both demonstration and real-world implementation contexts. To enable close collaboration, the core group is expected to include 5-8 stakeholders who commit to active participation, code development and contribution, and, most importantly, to implement the resulting specifications and services in a real-world setting that demonstrates the core use cases.
2. The NHIN Direct work will be conducted in an open manner, with ample opportunities for participation. We welcome comment and feedback, working code, code contribution to the open source reference implementation, and implementations of the specifications in different technologies.
3. Technology enablers may passively participate in the standards development work, by monitoring the work and resulting specifications, implementation guides and reference technology implementations, and then actively participate in late 2010 and in 2011 by building the core NHIN Direct services into EHRs, HIEs, and other healthcare technology implementations.
The NHIN Direct effort philosophy is expressed in design rules
The golden standards rule of "rough consensus, working code" will be applied to this effort.
Discuss disagreements in terms of goals and outcomes, not in terms of specific technical implementations.
The NHIN Direct project will adhere to the following design principles agreed to by the HIT Standards Committee from the feedback provided to the Implementation Workgroup
Keep it simple; think big, but start small; recommend standards as minimal as possible to support the business goal and then build as you go.
Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good enough”; go for the 80% that everyone can agree on; get everyone to send the basics (medications, problem list, allergies, labs) before focusing on the more obscure.
Keep the implementation cost as low as possible; eliminate any royalties or other expenses associated with the use of standards.
Design for the little guy so that all participants can adopt the standard and not just the best resourced.
Do not try to create a one size fits all standard, it will be too heavy for the simple use cases.
Separate content standards from transmission standards; i.e., if CCD is the html, what is the https?
Create publicly available controlled vocabularies & code sets that are easily accessible / downloadable
Leverage the web for transport whenever possible to decrease complexity & the implementers’ learning curve (“health internet”).
Create Implementation Guides that are human readable, have working examples, and include testing tools.
I look forward to the efforts of NHIN Direct. As always with emerging technologies, I'm eager to be an early adopter, beta tester, and active contributor.
Posted by John Halamka at 3:00 AM