European ‘Connect-a-thon’ tests interoperability

  • 18 May 2006

Over 60 healthcare software companies and organisations from all over the world have gathered together in Spain to test the interoperability of their systems.

A total of 700 combinations of system and 1600 tests were carried out over four days in Barcelona in a yearly European ‘Connect-a-thon’, organised by Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise in Europe (IHE Europe).

The results, published on the IHE Europe site this week, show PACS and radiology software vendors did particularly well. AGFA Healthcare came out top with 38 gold stars, with Austrian healthcare software company Tiani-Spirit came second with 32 successes.

UK-based companies that also had integration success include iSOFT, which earned 12 stars across the laboratory and patient administration profiles, and Initiate Systems UK, which won three stars in patient demographics.

James Wilkinson, UK Services Director, Initiate Systems UK, kept a Connect-a-thon blog exclusively for E-Health Insider. See "Inside the Connectathon Shed" at the end of this report.

IHE Europe allowed software vendors to attempt to connect their systems with up to ten ‘integration profiles’, set by the organisation, in sectors such as radiology, laboratory systems, patient administration and infrastructure.

Participants then tried to carry out various common tasks, such as admitting a patient or printing out an image, and gold stars were awarded for successful implementation of the profiles.

IHE Europe, a not-for-profit initiative, was set up by the European Association of Radiology (EAR) and the European Coordination Committee of the Radiological, Electromedical and Medical IT Industries (COCIR).

The organisation develops its integration profiles in order to better international healthcare data standards and establish common frameworks that are rigid enough to need specific needs, but flexible enough to allow development. Software companies that participate in the Connect-a-thon can use the results to show compliance with these integration profiles.

Two Connect-a-thons are currently held every year, one in Europe and one in North America. An extra one was held in Japan in 2004.

Results of the Connect-a-thon can be downloaded from IHE Europe’s site at http://www.ihe-europe.org

Inside the Connectathon Shed

with James Wilkinson, UK Services Director, Initiate Systems UK

The recent IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) Connectathon in Barcelona saw almost 300 of us crammed into a very large concrete shed or by its more usual name, the La Farga Convention Centre. This momentous event saw some of the best technical brains in Europe come together to try toprove that their system can talk to as many other solutions as possible, with each conforming to the IHE standards for interoperability.

The European healthcare community has been quick to recognise the advantages of the IHE approach for providing a common technical framework that describes how existing standards should be implemented by multinational and indigenous vendors. IHE makes it possible for each vendor’s implementation to be compatible with other vendor’s implementations – crucial in today’s integrated healthcare environment.

So there we were – technical bods from over 70 European companies, with 100s of laptops, servers and bits of kit and with enough brainpower in the room to power a small planet. Trying to get our PIX to talk to his PDQ, and their PAMs to link to his ATNA… while all the time Eric’s yellow T-shirted IHE team buzzed around to verify that we were all achieving what we’d said we’d done. Now I’m reliably informed that we’re a PIX as we’re in the job of Identity Management, so we had to talk to a whole raft of vendors, particularly as individual record identification, name de-duplication and record consolidation is a vital platform for all electronic patient record applications.

There were many early starts and much overnight C-compiling work done in lots of hotel rooms over the weeklong event to make it all happen and achieve the coveted Gold Stars vital for world-class interoperability and I’m pleased to say we achieved three Gold Stars.

For Initiate, we had ‘our man from Havana’ – well actually Chicago – who was already a Connectathon veteran having successfully got us through our USA accreditation with flying colours earlier in the year in California. But just to make his job a bit more exciting (as if anybody could need more excitement) his laptop blew up on Monday morning containing the full server implementation of our Initiate Identity HubTM software. So before we could do anything he had to rebuild it, which he did with remarkable cool, and – thankfully – very successfully by Wednesday morning.

When you think about the issues and problems of integrating systems from multiple vendors in the United States with unique standards and proprietary protocols, remember that for the most part they speak the same language. The European community, however, is quite another matter. Here we had different people from France, Germany, Spain, UK, Italy and Norway… all trying to communicate in English and then talk technical.

On the whole the event worked extremely well and throughout the week there was a very active buzz of people getting things done and being successful. There were lots of competing organisations collaborating freely and working very well together – you could tell the sales people weren’t there!

The goal of the IHE is to stimulate integration of healthcare information resources to improve clinical care. It aims to make ‘clinical information that is captured in one vendor’s application available to the clinician using other integrated applications in a single cooperative view’.

With the imminent dawn of national EHRs throughout Europe the role of the IHE will be invaluable. The organisation creates a safe and secure ecology for information sharing that is absolutely vital if we are all to move forward. We left the event feeling quietly confident and very pleased with the contacts we’d made and with what we had achieved.

 

 

 

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