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HIMSS Plans New EHR Testing Ground

Interoperability innovation center will let EHR vendors and other entities test their systems' ability to exchange data with other health IT systems.
9 Mobile EHRs Compete For Doctors' Attention
9 Mobile EHRs Compete For Doctors' Attention
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The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) plans to launch an interoperability innovation center in Cleveland's Global Center for Health Innovation (formerly known as the Cleveland Medical Mart).

The HIMSS Innovation Center, set to debut in mid-October, will include an "IT ecosystem" for testing, demonstrating and validating new interoperability applications. The ecosystem will occupy 12,500 square feet in the building. HIMSS will also offer for lease 12,500 square feet for exhibitions in such fields as mobile devices, consumer-driven healthcare and evidence-based care. The exhibit area is expected to double in size by 2016.

At a media conference, Carla Smith, HIMSS executive VP, said that the IT ecosystem will be open to any entity that wants to show it is compliant with the interoperability requirements of such programs as the Meaningful Use program and the Affordable Care Act. But she did not say whether any electronic health record (EHR) vendors planned to use the HIMSS Innovation Center. This seemed like a curious omission, since HIMSS is the parent of the EHR Association.

[ Meaningful Use has put new strains on providers in terms of patient engagement. Are you ready? See 7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement. ]

In an exclusive interview with InformationWeek Healthcare, Smith said that during the two years in which HIMSS had been developing the innovation center, it had not approached health IT vendors to gauge their reaction until recently.

"As a non-profit organization, we need to be sure we work under the guidance of our board of directors," she explained. "You don't want to take the idea to your intended audience before you get the green light from the board."

That green light came last week, she said. After that, HIMSS asked EHR vendors whether they supported the concept of the innovation center and whether they wanted more information about it. Within 24 hours, she said, 40 companies -- including most of the leading firms -- had replied in the affirmative.

U.S. health IT firms, consultants and other stakeholders will not be the only ones invited to use the HIMSS Innovation Center. Smith said at the media conference that it will be an international "center of excellence" open to healthcare entities and governments around the world.

The center will be a "physical and virtual presence," she said. Stakeholders can use it "to solve real world problems and challenges both in the clinical workflow and the financial/transactional side." Both demonstrations and simulations will be welcomed. "You don't have to physically come to the innovation center, although we have an opportunity for anyone to do so," she said.

Besides providing a forum for demonstrations, the innovation center will "provide analytics and outcomes analyses of these demonstrations and tests," she added. That could prove valuable to providers who are trying to find out whether a vendor's product actually does what it's claimed to do.

Steve Lieber, president and CEO of HIMSS, said that the organization did not plan to bring its annual conference to Cleveland in future years, because the Cleveland Convention Center and area hotels lack sufficient space for an event of that size. But he said that HIMSS is likely to put on special events there for smaller audiences.

HIMSS has held an interoperability showcase at its annual meeting for years, and it also sponsors a yearly "connectathon." Smith said that the innovation center represents an expansion, not a replacement, of the connectathon.

Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator of health IT, recently blasted EHR vendors for not making faster progress toward interoperability and for keeping their data "locked up." Lieber denied that the HIMSS Innovation Center was a response to that criticism, noting that it has been in the works since 2010.

But he added that providing an environment for testing and validation of interoperability "removes an excuse" for vendors who say they don't know whether their products are interoperable with other vendors' EHRs.

On the other hand, although many vendors have shown that their products can exchange data with other EHRs in a test environment, little of that interoperability is evident in the real world today. Perhaps the innovation center will nudge the vendors in the right direction; but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

As large healthcare providers test the limits, many smaller groups question the value. Also in the new, all-digital Big Data Analytics issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Ask these six questions about natural language processing before you buy. (Free with registration.)