In response to a request for information by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, a group of 80,000 medical industry professionals affiliated with the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) initiative have developed a response in support of a national health information network.

The group also supported the collaborative response submitted by 13 information technology and healthcare organizations that included IHE, the group said.

“The IHE initiative demonstrates the power of collaboration within the healthcare industry,“ said H. Stephen Lieber, president/CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS; Chicago). “IHE-capable applications will continue as a key component for the realization of interoperability and a national health information network.“

Several sources have provided their input as a result of the Request for Information, which is sort of a fact-finding mission for the government. That information could ultimately be used for a request for proposal for such a system as a next step toward actually creating such a national system to support electronic health records (EHR).

The American College of Cardiology (ACC; Bethesda, Maryland), HIMSS and the Radiological Society of North America (Oak Brook, Illinois) sponsor IHE, which was introduced in 1998.

Although the IHE does not create the standards, it is involved in a process of “bringing together all the stakeholders,“ Joyce Sensmeier, RN, director of professional services for HIMSS, told Medical Device Daily. That means vendors or anyone who would ultimately have an interest in the technology to support technology integration.

The second part of its work is the documentation of the group's findings into technical framework. That is, all the vendors come together to determine standards amongst themselves on how to make healthcare technology compatible and integrated. Any vendor in the process of developing software would consult with the documentation provided by IHE.

Involving the vendors and technology experts is a process that has been in place a long time, Sensmeier said.

“The result of that is a technical framework that the vendors can download and install into their products to make them interoperable with other vendor systems,“ she said. “So, to date, we have, worldwide, over 100 vendors that are implementing the IHE technical framework into their products.“

Just last week the group held an annual event whereby the vendors come together to test all the various systems to ensure that their efforts are having the desired results. The group created some clinical scenarios in space provided by RSNA, for example, when a patient has been admitted to the emergency room and that patient's information is needed and needs to be accessed at multiple points, she said.

“The event is just amazing to see them take off their competitive hat and collaborating with each other across their products and testing out the IHE capability,“ Sensmeier said.

The first area incorporated into the testing program was radiology, but now the specialist areas include cardiology and laboratory. It's being used for cardiology for the first time this year.

“Cardiologists will find this single-entry electronic health record program extremely useful,“ said Michael Wolk, MD, president of the ACC. “Once it's up and running, such a linear record of our patients' treatment plans will greatly enhance our existing paper systems. We can't wait for this breakthrough to be readily available in our everyday practices.“

This framework will be demonstrated at the 2005 annual HIMSS Conference & Exhibition on Feb. 13-17 in Dallas during the Interoperability Showcases on the exhibit floor. Attendees will be able to track their sample health record through an IHE demonstration and exhibition-wide regional health information organization based on IHE Integration Profiles and Connectathon-tested implementations in acute and ambulatory care settings.

IHE also will have a demonstration program at the American College of Cardiology's annual scientific sessions March 6-9 in Orlando, Florida.

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