For whatever reason people simply do not get what the NHIN is and what its implications are.
This feels like a repeat of what happened to me more than a year ago.
The NHIN (which has been rebranded the “Nationwide Health Information Network” or NWHIN from “National Health Information Network” in response to these silly trademarks) is going to be the foundation of a new Health Internet. The US Government wisely will not call it that, because of the paranoid privacy histrionics that this would induce, but nonetheless it -is- a Health Internet. The definition of the word “Internet” is: Any set of computer networks that communicate using the Internet Protocol. The Internet, the largest global internet
The Health Internet by extension is the “largest Internet devoted to Healthcare Data”.
Here are the basic features of the Health Internet:
- You will be able to ‘email’ your doctor.
- Your doctor will be able to ‘email’ you.
- Faxing health records will go away.
- Eventually, your medical records will auto-magically follow you around the country, appearing when they are most needed in a moments notice.
- All of this will be done securely and in a way that fully supports peoples legitimate need for privacy.
- New innovative services will appear, that leverage the Health Internet data channel to create applications that were previously unthinkable.
How is this being accomplished? Simple as one two three:
- The EHR stimulus money will be given out in response to “meaningful use” standards which include interoperability requirements, which will require connecting and sharing data, without specifying a specific technology stack. These standards will become more and more pronounced as time moves forward.
- ONC is supporting the development of two Open Source projects that will serve as reference implementations of the two NHIN protocols: IHE and the newly formed Direct Protocol. Those projects are the IHE projects: (CONNECT Project if your are a federal agency and the Aurion Project if you are anyone else, updated 8-19-11) and the Direct Project (Direct). I recommend you watch this OSCON video for a basic explanation of these two projects.
- The Federal Government will expose its considerable health data resources (i.e. DoD and the VA) using these two protocols. Agencies which accept the reporting of meaningful use measures will accept that reporting using one or both of these two protocols.
So are these protocols being mandated? No. But then neither were HTTP, STMP, SSH, SSL, or DNS. Its just what everyone uses. The VA has the single largest pile of detailed health records in the history of mankind. They will be available using either CONNECT-complatible IHE or Direct-compatible Direct protocol. They will probably not be available using your-favorite vendors idea of a proprietary health data exchange protocol.
This is going to happen. Hell, it already is happening. These reference implementations are entirely Open Source. They are designed to eventually handle the cases of communicating across national boundaries. This is going to the start of a international Health Internet. First with Canada and Mexico, and nations promoting Medical Tourism and then everyone else. It will take time. Adoption might be slow. But there will be a Health Internet, it will use these protocols. It is only a question of how long this will take to be adopted, and how long it will take people to stop talking in the abstract about the issues of Health Data Exchange.
This is happening. Adjust.