To start with, IHE is an initiative by healthcare professionals and industry to improve the way computer systems in healthcare share information. IHE utilizes existing standards like DICOM and HL7 to address clinical needs. HL7 and DICOM standards provide the basis for the framework, but they do not address everything. For example:
- Too much optionality requires site-specific interface development.
- Conflicting interpretations and gaps in the standards cause an inefficient workflow.
IHE is built on standards, including:
Technical Frameworks provide the detailed implementation of standards to provide consistency for Integrations. The integration profiles in IHE are developed by the industry subject experts, both vendor and healthcare institutions.
So what’s required of participating organizations?
First, you need to complete the MESA test, which will simulate the other vendors system and submit the log for approval before you are accepted to the Connectathon. This ensures that all system will be at a certain level. At the Connectathon, you are assigned your testing partners who you test with throughout the week. At the end of the week, a group test is performed. IHE has Project managers that observe and analyze each systems logs and software for pass or fail of the transaction test.
How do vendors prepare for the Connectathon? What helps vendors pass?
Start on time to look over which profiles and actors that you want to test with; you only have a couple of months between latest MESA test software release and when the logs are due to submit. My hat off to the dedication and time the engineers put in to have it done just before the holidays.
How would vendors go about getting involved with IHE and participating in future Connectathons?
Contact IHE and they are happy to help you through the process. IHE needs the registration to be complete in mid-September for next years connectathon in January or February, so start planning at least a year out. Vendors are very open to share helpful tips since they all benefit from more vendors and systems participating each year.
To pass on a tip that I was given, if it is your first year, bring only one system and focus on a mature profile which has gone through a couple of Connectathons. Remember, most vendors have Alpha and Beta software for the tests, so there could be much waiting around while software is tweaked.
Bring software engineers to the Connectathon; software that is failing may need to be altered on the spot to continue. Remember, you are not only responsible for your product passing, but other testing partners may depend on it as well. Bring one person that interfaces with the other vendors, as there is much coordination needed to get through the event.
From a business standpoint, how does implementing IHE profiles help vendors?
It gives you the credibility from a practical standpoint. Customers don’t have to take your word for it, and you as a vendor can back it up with an IHE statement. Also you may find the requirement in RFPs, and you don’t want to check “no” on a question regarding IHE. In addition, IHE is about workflow and interoperability and developed based on use cases. Much of the implementation challenges in the field have been solved, so the application is more successful to the customer’s need and directly has an impact on the ability to integrate/interface with other medical applications.
Keep in mind that much of the CCHIT interoperability certification requirements are taken from IHE.