Some 350 engineers are sitting in front of computers in the basement of a downtown Chicago hotel this week trying to save the "typical" American hospital about $2 million a year.
At last count, the engineers come from 77 companies located in 19 countries, and they are participating in the eighth annual Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise North America Connectathon, which started Monday and runs through Friday, an event where vendors test how well their products can communicate with at least three of their competitors' products in different clinical use-case scenarios.
IHE is sponsored by the American College of Cardiology, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and Radiological Society of North America. A European Connectathon will be held April 15-20 in Berlin.
"Eliminating costly point-to-point interfaces, that's what we're trying to do here," said Didi Davis, the IHE director for HIMSS, explaining that it costs hospitals $10,000 to $20,000 to create interfaces allowing their different computer devices and systems to "talk" to each otherand that, every time one piece of this network gets an upgrade, a new interface is needed.
Glen Marshall, the standards and regulations manager for Siemens Medical Solutions and a member of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology security work group, said the typical small to medium-size hospital can have about 200 of these interfaces in place and the maintenance of these interfaces can cost between $30,000 and $50,000 over a five-year period.
"Now you're dealing with real money," he said.
Speaking for himself, Marshall acknowledged that creating interfaces creates revenue but "This is not good revenue."
"Good revenue is when you do something, and you're thanked for doing it," he said. "You're never thanked for doing" interface maintenance.
For the first time, the Connectathon is not being held in the basement parking garage of the RSNA headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Ill. This year's event is at the Hyatt Regency-Chicago, and it's the biggest Connectathon yet, drawing representatives from 77 companies -- compared with last year's total of 55. More than 150 applications were being tested.
Davis acknowledged that some participants miss the garage's "ambience," but Steve Moore, IHE's lead monitor for the Connectathon interoperability tests, said the new, bigger location is working out much better. He explained the old location's L-shaped space led to communication problems, and its smaller meeting room meant that participants had to attend briefings and eat lunch in shifts.
A faculty member at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University in St. Louis, Moore and the rest of the monitors were wearing red T-shirts in honor of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, which won the 2006 World Series. Other Connectathon staff and volunteers were also distinguished by their color-coded shirts. Folks with the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel were dressed in light blue T-shirts, while HIMSS staffers had on golden-yellow shirts. "I feel like Big Bird," one HIMSS volunteer complained.
Sponsored by the American National Standards Institute and working with HIMSS, the Advanced Technology Institute and Booz Allen Hamilton, the HITSP is under a $3.3 million contract with the HHS to develop a process to select and recommend appropriate healthcare IT standards. Davis said the HITSP recognizes the work being done by IHE and its Connectathons and has already selected eight IHE "integrated profiles" as part of its set of "interoperability specifications."
"I think they see the value, and I think (the number) will continue to grow," she said. "They're leveraging it now, and it's my guess they will continue to do so."
Representatives from the American College of Physicians were on hand to assess the "clinical relevance" of the use-case scenarios.
"We make sure the use cases are an accurate representation of need and not toy problems," said Thomson Kuhn, a senior system architect for the ACP's governmental affairs and policy division.
Kuhn added that, despite all the bells and whistles a vendor may attach to its electronic medical record products, what doctors want most of all is electronic processing of laboratory orders and results, prescriptions and referrals.
"What (ACP) members say to me is very simple: 'All we want to do is replace the fax machine,' " Kuhn said.
Also new this year are the New Directions Life Sciences demonstrations being led by the Austin, Texas-based Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium with the participation of pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly & Co., Genzyme Corp., Novartis and Pfizer. In this area, vendors are testing their products under scenarios involving clinical research, disease registries, laboratory and image data, drug safety, and biosurveillance.
Landen Bain, CDISC's liaison to healthcare, said suspected adverse-event monitoring for newly approved drugs is "probably the easiest" of these applications to develop a pilot test for and that he hopes to get one going this year. He added that the current state of adverse-event reporting for new drugs is "abysmal."
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