Nashville is home to a new 16,000-square-foot Center for Medical Interoperability that will be focused on simplifying and advancing health data sharing across technologies and systems.

Thursday is the grand opening of the center, which is a membership-based organization that includes what is described as the first-of-its-kind testing and certification laboratory for devices and systems, focused on finding solutions to healthcare’s daunting interoperability challenges.

Several of the center’s members are based or headquartered in Nashville, including Community Health Systems, HCA Healthcare and Vanderbilt University.

“If you walk into any hospital, they all struggle with getting their devices to work together, getting the devices to work with the EHRs and getting the patient information moving to wherever it needs to go,” says Kerry McDermott, vice president of public policy and communications at the Center for Medical Interoperability.

The initial focus of the center will be “inside the hospital” in acute care settings such as the ICU, where patients are “surrounded by dozens of medical devices—each of which knows something valuable about the patient, but we don’t have a streamlined way to aggregate all that data to make it useful for clinicians who need to make real-time important treatment decisions,” according to McDermott.

“Healthcare, until now, has not had a dedicated technical resource where engineers come to work every day targeting that specific problem of how we achieve better data sharing across our medical technologies and systems,” she contends.

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The center’s 501(c)(3) cooperative research and development lab, founded with $10 million in initial funding from the Gary and Mary West Foundation, will be used to develop, test, and certify devices and software that meet its goal of developing “vendor-neutral blueprints that enable interoperability within health systems” and support “real time one-to-many communication, two-way data exchange, plug-and-play integration of devices and systems, the use of standards and the highest level of security.”

According to McDermott, the major missing ingredient for healthcare is the lack of an agreed-upon architecture for how the different pieces of technology should fit together within hospital operations. She says the center’s membership includes hospitals and health systems that are dedicated to solving shared technical challenges with standards-based, plug-and-play solutions. Ultimately, McDermott sees certification from its lab as being the equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval” for medical technology.

Among the emerging interoperability standards that the center is looking to leverage is Health Level 7 International’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) application programming interface, particularly on the device side. While McDermott contends that FHIR has tremendous potential, she believes there’s a lot more work to be done to make it a mature standard.

“The lab will help bring about a ‘plug-and-play’ environment for healthcare in which there is assured interoperability and connectivity inside and outside the hospital,” said Ed Cantwell, president and CEO of the Center for Medical Interoperability. “An analogy would be the global ATM network that the banking industry uses to facilitate seamless and secure communication among a wide variety of equipment and institutions.”

In addition, the lab includes a Transformation Learning Center (TLC), a resource dedicated to “clinical collaboration” where clinicians explore the impact of technologies “to ensure solutions are safe, useful and satisfying for patients and their care teams.” McDermott says clinicians will use the TLC to develop use cases and capture clinical requirements for what they need.

The concept for the center was first developed in 2011 through researching a standards-based approach to medical device interoperability at the Gary and Mary West Health Institute, adds McDermott. In 2015, the center’s board of directors was formed, consisting of executives drawn from some of the nation’s largest health systems, as well as academic medical centers and rural providers, which represent more than 50 percent of the purchasing power of healthcare, she says.

“We’re really trying to synergize the efforts of these different purchasers, which isn’t to say that the center gets involved in the purchasing decisions made by health systems,” McDermott concludes. “But what we do is provide them with a technical lab that is the focal point for working with the vendors—engineers from industry alongside engineers from the center and the membership—on developing what is the right architecture for healthcare.”

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