The federal government has released its latest version of the open source Connect software platform for advanced health information exchange.
Called Connect 4.0, this latest version for the first time incorporates another government-developed interoperability tool, the Direct protocol for encrypted, peer-to-peer communication. Direct can be used for referral letters and patient summaries and other communications between providers. Direct stands poised to become the key vehicle for interoperability providers will use to meet Stage 2 meaningful use criteria under the electronic health record incentive payment program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
With Direct bundled into Connect, “now an organization has the multiple transport mechanisms available to them,” said Lauren Thompson, director of the Federal Health Architecture program at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS. “We like to think of it as a portfolio of ways for exchange.”
The FHA is a collaboration of federal departments and agencies with healthcare organizations or needs all seeking to achieve healthcare information interoperability between themselves and private sector healthcare organizations. Development of Connect was funded by FHA members, some of which include HHS, the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. The latest version of Connect can support more than 1,600 messages per minute, Thompson said.
Connect is being used currently by 35 to 40 organizations
, according to Thompson The eHealth Exchange, sponsored by the ONC, and whose members use Connect, was launched to jumpstart the proposed Nationwide Health Information Network. It is transitioning from the ONC to being run by a public-private partnership called HealtheWay, Thompson said.
The Social Security Administration, for example, is using Connect with a healthcare provider organization, MedVirgina, to speed the flow of information on patients seeking Social Security disability benefits. “They've seen some tremendous gains with that,” Thompson said. They include financial benefits to MedVirginia, which is discovering, through enhanced communication with the government agency, that some patients are eligible for services they were unaware of before, she said.
Connect 4.0 is free. Copies of the software can be downloaded at the Connect web site
“It's our hope that the industry will embrace Connect as the evolution of health information exchange,” Thompson said. A team from the FHA participated in the recent Chicago Connectathon sponsored by Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise and the new upgraded will be demonstrated at the Interoperability Showcase at the upcoming Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society convention in New Orleans, she said.