About 540 software systems engineers from 101 companies or organizations are spending most of their days this week sitting in front of their laptops at dozens of lines of banquet tables in the basement of a Chicago hotel, trying to get 160 different software systems to talk to one another in a common language.
“You're sort of on the cutting edge here, trying to make your system run,” said Jerry Bastian, a software engineer with SunTech Medical, a developer of computerized electronic devices, including one Bastian was working with to measure a patient's pulse, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels.
Bastian is a first-time participant at this, the 14th annual Connectathon NA (North America), organized by the not-for-profit association Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise USA. This year's Connectathon opened Jan. 28 and runs through Feb. 2.
Bastian's goal is to test his system against a common communication profile developed by IHE for medical devices, and then use that profile to connect it with other health IT systems—say an electronic health-record system—also using the same profile and operated by system engineers from the EHR developer sitting maybe a table or two away.
A profile, Bastain explained, is a standard or group of standards sufficiently “constrained” to reduce variability and make data swapping both possible and precise. But even with standards and profiles, exchanges don't always go as expected, thus the need to test, and the benefit of having data swapping partners all together in the same room for several days, all focusing their time and energies exclusively on making their systems play well with other.
“If I have a problem, I say, 'Hey, what's going on?' Bastian said. “Here you're able to do that with multiple people all day long. That's what we're here for.”