Is there an enterprise on earth more saturated with alphabet-soup names than healthcare?
Well, okay, the military.
But someone interested in healthcare information IT and bedazzled by the seemingly endless stream of acronyms it has foisted on a souped-up world, the Chicago-based National Alliance for Health Information Technology should win some sort of award as a handy reference tool and memory aid.
The alliance today announced the release to the public of a Web-based directory of IT standards and the organizations that produce them.
While the new directory is handy, and packed full of information, a veteran medical informaticst has some criticism of the new site, both on accessibility and that maybe it's too full.
"I resent going through that registration," said an annoyed Clement McDonald, M.D., director of the Indianapolis-based Regenstreif Institute, logging on for the first time. "What do they have that's secret in there?"
And the sheer volume of standards, more than 800 with no comment on their weight or relevancy, will probably be more than most physicians will find useful, McDonald said.
"I think for a new person wanting to know what's out there, telling them there are 800 standards is almost a disservice."
McDonald said he prefers the Web site run by CMS' Consolidated Health Informatics.
In its defense, the alliance's new directory links to the CHI site.
And, adding additional content explaining how the standards relate is a goal for future development, now that the site is up and running, said Rod Piechowski, standards program manager for the alliance.
"We feel that in order to do anything with standards, first you have to survey the field and see what's out there," he said.
So, let's say you're looking for the Regenstreif-developed standard Logical Observation Identifier Names and Codes, or LOINC.
Go to hitsdir.org. Register (first-time users only; it's free) and you will be offered a concise menu with four ways to search: by a standard terms search box, by organization, by the name of the standard or by category.
If you type in LOINC using the terms search feature, it pulls up a box with three links. One of them is for the CHI site, the CMS organization McDonald preferred, which seeks to coordinate government use of healthcare IT. CHI has adopted four messaging and one health vocabulary standard, including LOINC.
A second link is to a page about Regenstrief and a brief explanation that LOINC is a database of 31,000 standardized names and codes for tests and clinical measurements.
A third link is to a page about the standard itself. But let's say you can't remember how LOINC is spelled but remember it was developed by Regenstrief. Now what?
Besides the search box, the main Web page for the directory offers three additional links, one that will take you to an alphabetized list of standards-development organizations. Scroll down and you will find Regenstrief.
Can't remember either the spelling of LOINC or the name Regenstrief? Click on the main Web page's link to standards publications and you will find an alphabetized list of 862 standards.
Got an idea that what you're looking for is an electronic medical records standard?
Click on the third selection on the main Web page -- categories -- and you will come to a list of 10 categories, including electronic health records. Click through and you come to a page that lists Regenstrief under EHR organizations, but, oops, LOINC isn't listed among the 81 EHR standards on that page.
Missing links are to be expected, since the directory is a work in progress, according to Piechowski.
"I don't think the categories are near complete, and some of the cross references fall under different categories," Piechowski said.
The Web site, two years in development, was rolled out privately in April for beta testing to the members of the alliance, a coalition of 82 healthcare organizations that includes payers, providers, group purchasing organizations, medical societies, other healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical companies.
Alliance member Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems is the sponsor of the standards directory Web site.
The alliance was founded in July 2002 to promote healthcare IT, "and this was one of the first things we got started on," Piechowski said.