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Health IT engineers rev up for another Connectathon


By Joseph Conn
Posted: January 24, 2014 - 3:15 pm ET
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More than 500 software engineers from more than 100 companies will convene in Chicago next week for the 15th annual Connectathon to work out bugs in exchanging data between health IT systems.

The Connectathon, organized by a not-for-profit organization called Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise, gives the people who actually build health information technology systems a chance to rub shoulders with their counterparts from other firms and troubleshoot exchanges of information against a common set of test scripts.

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New to the Connectathon this year, slated to run Jan. 27-31, is a “Plugfest,” sponsored by the Continua Health Alliance, an industry consortium of healthcare organizations and mobile-health-device makers. Health IT vendors will test their systems' connectivity to mobile devices using Continua's interoperability protocols.

The scheduled keynote speaker is Dr. Doug Fridsma, chief science officer and director of the Office of Science and Technology at HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Fridsma has been a chief architect of the federal government's interoperability development and promotional efforts.

“ONC and Doug are very engaged with IHE now,” said Joyce Sensmeier, president of IHE USA. “For a while, there was a distance between what they were doing and what IHE is doing, but there is a realization now that what IHE is doing would help his and the national agenda, so that's a positive for the industry.”

This year's Connectathon could be the last in the Chicago area.

IHE International was formed in 1997 by the Radiological Society of North America and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. The first meeting of what is now called the Connectathon took place in 2000 in the basement garage at RSNA headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.

The event moved in 2007 to Chicago and a downtown Hyatt hotel, the venue again this year. True to its heritage, the Connectathon still has developers gather in the hotel basement at banquet-length rows of tables covered with laptop computers to run their tests.

Developers will come out of the basement next year, Sensmeier said, when the gathering place is scheduled to be the Cleveland Convention Center and the adjacent Global Center for Health Innovation, a health mart that opened last fall and includes the HIMSS Innovation Center.

Sensmeier said so far 103 companies from seven countries are registered to attend, bringing with them 140 health IT systems for testing by “about 500 engineers” and 71 volunteers who'll oversee the testing process. In addition, she said, a delegation from three Latin American countries is expected to attend.

Discussions are underway for creating a Connectathon of the Americas that will include South and Central American countries she said. Connectathons are already being held in Australia, China, Europe, Japan and Korea.

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn


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