Friday, March 16th, marked the release of CONNECT 3.3, an open source product that enables health information exchange, securely, across the Internet. This product is used by Health Information Exchange (HIE) organizations, hospitals, healthcare institutions, and government agencies around the world. The release of CONNECT 3.3 is important news to healthcare, as the software helps the country achieve the goal of sharing medical information to improve healthcare and lower costs. CONNECT’s release also was a big day for several of us at 5AM Solutions. For nearly the past year, several colleagues and I have been working tirelessly on the CONNECT project, which is a program of the Federal Health Architecture (FHA), an E-Government initiative managed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. Assembling and implementing the varied requirements of several government agencies, the open source community, and standards bodies sometimes led to late nights and long days. We enjoyed the work and the people we got to work with, but being a software engineer often means that you are down in the trenches, which can cause you to lose perspective on the big picture of what you are working on. After the release last week, we had the opportunity to lift our heads up and once again look at what CONNECT really means to healthcare.
In an effort to promote electronic sharing of health information, the Department of Health and Human Services developed a network known as the Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN, “the Exchange”) as well as a set of standards to govern communication and abilities of networked partners. The idea was grand, and the scope was large. The ultimate goal was to promote adoption of the Exchange and facilitate the secure sharing of health information, so the HHS committed to giving the nation a leg-up by building a standards-based open-source gateway, and giving it away for free to anybody who could use it. This was the birth of CONNECT.
CONNECT 3.3 can be downloaded and installed by any organization that wants to exchange health information across the Internet, whether as members of the Exchange, internally within and among the systems in their institution, or in private exchanges among healthcare entities. An organization’s system “hooks up” to CONNECT via defined APIs, and CONNECT adds the security and standards, and handles the exchange.
Among the new features, CONNECT 3.3:
supports the newest version of NwHIN technical specifications
adds the ability to send messages faster via a “fan out” parallel mechanism
allows organizations the ability to choose which features of the health information exchange they want to support to serve their business needs
Not only does CONNECT now support the newer version of the technical specs, but it is backwards compatible with systems that support the older specs, allowing communication to continue between new versions on CONNECT and any system that already exchanges info. CONNECT 3.3 has not only been designed to support clustering of multiple instances to support high volume needs of large organizations, but stand-alone instances also support larger throughputs as well as increased speed on several industry-leading platforms. CONNECT 3.3 now comes with an installation script that does nearly all the build and deployment work, speeding adoption and integration.
What does CONNECT mean for the community of groups that do health information exchange?
It means that looking to adopt federal standards and becoming a member of the NwHIN no longer has to be an expensive and daunting task
It means that the healthcare industry’s ability to share information, to better treat patients, has just become easier and more pleasant
It means that the noble vision of a network of HIE’s communicating with each other has just taken a large step in the right direction
The benefits of electronic health information sharing are vast – in the simplest case, the more information a doctor has, the more knowledge she brings to treating her patients. And as a developer who’s in the trenches every day, lifting my head up to put CONNECT back in context, seeing anew how it helps hospitals, governments, healthcare workers, and patients, makes me proud of my contribution to the effort.
-Zach Melnick, 5AM Solutions
For more information on CONNECT, visit www.connectopensource.org. You can view a short video of the new features in CONNECT 3.3 at http://www.connectopensource.org/sites/connectopensource.org/files/connect-3.3.mp4. For those who are also “in the trenches” to bring together people and health information, the CONNECT team will be presenting a technical webinar next Tuesday, March 27 – Watch the 5AM and CONNECT websites for details.