Feds collaborate on NHIN interface

In a rare example of collaboration, six agencies have jointly developed an interface for the Nationwide Health Information Network, and they plan to make it available to the public as a free download in March 2009.

Vish Sankaran, director of the Federal Health Architecture program at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said the agencies will use the interface when they participate in the NHIN demonstration in December. “This is no longer just talk,” he said.

“The federal agencies decided to build the software together and deploy it individually,” Sankaran said. They contributed money and expertise, and Harris Corp. did much of the hands-on development work.

Without the shared interface, each agency would have had to undertake its own development project, resulting in disparate approaches and greater costs, he said.

Before March, the interface will be available to other federal agencies that wish to connect to the emerging NHIN, Sankaran said. He added that ONC wants to encourage more agencies to exchange health records via the network, and he is particularly eager to see the Food and Drug Administration participate.

Although individuals and organizations can use the interface, Sankaran said he hopes software developers and systems integrators will also download it. If vendors build the interface into their products, such as electronic health record systems, “it will lower costs,” he added.

As agencies join NHIN, they will have new requirements for the interface’s features and capabilities, Sankaran said. The government will continue to tweak the interface and add capabilities as needed for the next couple of years, he said, but by 2011, “we expect the marketplace to take ownership” of the open-source product because the private sector usually is better than the government at developing and maintaining software.

The agencies that developed and are currently using the NHIN interface are the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, the Social Security Administration, the Indian Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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