HHS tests exchanging personal medical data over Internet

Open-source project used volunteers to prepare data exchange standards

The Health and Human Services Department’s open-source Direct Project development program for secure health data exchange over the Internet has started operating in two states, Minnesota and Rhode Island, and will launch demonstration projects in six more states, officials have announced.

The Direct Project is an offshoot of HHS’ Nationwide Health Information Network, a set of protocols for secure health data exchange between federal health agencies. Direct Project started last year with HHS support to spur health data exchange among a larger group of participants. Earlier, a similar effort was known as the NHIN Direct project.

The goal of Direct Project is to develop an open-source, interoperable and easy-to-use tool to enable secure Internet transmission of sensitive health data, replacing mail and faxed transmissions. Volunteer developers from more than 60 organizations and companies came together in 2010 to write common standards and technical specifications for Direct Project.

Related story:

Winners and losers under the NHIN Direct project

HHS authorized pilot programs, and two are operational, according to a news release dated Feb. 2.

“This is an important milestone in our journey to achieve secure health information exchange, and it means that health care providers large and small will have an early option for electronic exchange of information supporting their most basic and frequently needed uses,” Dr. David Blumenthal, HHS’ national coordinator for health IT, said in the release.

If the pilot demonstrations are successful, the Direct Project technologies will be available across the country by 2012 to spur adoption of electronic health record systems by doctors and hospitals. The economic stimulus law of 2009 provided $20 billion for that effort.

Aneesh Chopra, the White House's chief technology officer, said Direct Project is an example of using stakeholders to create innovation.

“This is a new way of doing the public’s business, and it works,” Chopra said. “Instead of the traditional top-down approach, it calls on stakeholders to work together in a more open and fast-moving way to achieve results. It makes government a platform for innovation by those who really know the field.”

The next states to begin demonstrations are California, Connecticut, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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