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CONNECT health IT project handed to open-source developer

Feds turn over CONNECT health IT project to open-source developer

By Joseph Conn
Posted: April 4, 2014 - 2:45 pm ET

A federal consortium of agencies working to harmonize standards used to achieve nationwide interoperability of health information technology systems has turned to an open-source development agent to oversee a key project.

The Federal Health Architecture has announced it will turn over responsibility for future administration of its CONNECT software development project to Open Health Tools, Vienna, Va., a not-for-profit organization.

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CONNECT is a bi-directional, query and response communications platform operating between healthcare organizations, essentially a way for various government systems to communicate with each other.

Open Health runs both its own development projects and also provides code storage and communications services for projects administered by others.

“This is a key milestone for the CONNECT program and the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with the open-source community and FHA,” according to a statement from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. “FHA looks forward to supporting the community's efforts, through (Open Health Tools) to implement a governance structure that provides a mechanism for community participants—including health information exchanges, vendors, providers and academia—to expand their contributions to the CONNECT program and have a meaningful voice in its future evolution.”

“FHA will continue to contribute to the development of CONNECT to ensure that there are versions of this program that support the unique requirements of the federal health community,” the ONC statement said.

Since its inception in 2007, CONNECT has been an open-source development project. It publicly released its first version of software code in 2009.

Part of the ONC's mandate, when it was created in 2004, was to coordinate all federal agencies' health IT efforts. In addition to HHS and private-sector contributors, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration have been active participants in CONNECT.

The project aims to provide the software needed to connect multiple regional health-information exchanges to form the proposed National Health Information Network, a “network of networks” envisioned by Dr. David Brailer, the first ONC chief.

Open Health Tools oversees two types of open source projects: chartered projects, in which it holds administrative control, and forge projects, where it does not, merely providing code repository and communications services.

“This is a chartered project,” said Dr. Robert Kolodner, the former head of the ONC, and chief health information officer for Open Health Tools. “It’s not just trying to put it into an open source repository and whatever happens, happens.”

Moving CONNECT under the stewardship of an independent, open-source agent was always government’s plan, Kolodner said.

“For it to be robust and independent, it needed to move out into an open source community. The group that’s coming together around this, they are public- and private-sector participants, which is exactly what we wanted.”

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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