Mar 30, 2010 (09:03 AM EDT)
NHIN Direct Focus Is Health Data Exchange Specs

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The Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) Direct project unveiled last month will coexist with and not replace the federal government's ongoing vision for a robust, secure, and comprehensive national health data exchange, said a top government official.

NHIN Direct aims to develop interoperability specifications for simple, direct one-on-one data exchange between healthcare providers.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT unveiled the NHIN Direct Project, an initiative to develop specifications and easy processes for local healthcare providers to exchange health data directly with other providers -- such as labs exchanging data with a doctor's office, or a primary care physician electronically sending a patient referral to a specialist.

While NHIN Direct specifications could help healthcare providers meet meaningful use data exchange requirements that begin in 2011 and 2012, development continues on broader NHIN programs and state health information exchanges that support more complex data exchanges, such as public health and quality metrics reporting, said Dr. Doug Fridsma, acting director of the office of interoperability and standards within ONC, and leader of the NHIN project.

Based on feedback ONC has gotten so far on the "open government" NHIN Direct wiki set up by HHS for public discussion, some players in the healthcare community think that NHIN Direct will replace the need for larger statewide and regional health information exchanges.

But that's not the case, said Fridsma. "Interoperability isn't one size fits all," he said in an interview with InformationWeek.