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The ONC Interoperability Framework

Posted Mar 30 2010 3:00am
In my summary of the March HIT Standards Committee meeting I mentioned the new ONC Interoperability Framework and the related RFPs. Here's the detail I promised in my previous blog about ONC . Thanks to Doug Fridsma for this overview and his hard work on it.

ONC announced several projects to support Standards and Interoperability Framework and Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).

Over ten requests for proposals were released in February 2010 under the existing contract vehicle: National Institutes of Health (NIH) Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITACC) CIO-SP2 Task Order. The funding will support activities for two years that are designed to develop the standards, tools, interoperability framework, and technical infrastructure to support the overall goals of improving adoption of HIT. Key areas for RFP include:

ONC anticipates leveraging the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) for health care and develop consistent process for use case development. Working closely with consumers, providers, government organizations and other stakeholders, ONC will identify real-world needs, prioritize them through a governance process, and create explicit, unambiguous documentation of the use cases, functional requirements and technical specifications for interoperability.


The harmonization process integrates different views of health care information into a consistent view. This process will include merging related concepts, adding new concepts, and mapping concepts from one view of health care information into another view. This process will also identify gaps that can point the way towards development of new interoperability standards. ONC anticipates leveraging NIEM process to support data exchange harmonization.


Standards Development
In order to meet the needs of the use cases and increased use of HIT, there will be a need to modify or extend the existing standards or develop new standards. ONC will work with standards development organizations and with research organizations to extend existing ones, or develop new standards as necessary. 



Tools and Standards Repository
To accelerate the development, use, maintenance and adoption of interoperability standards across the industry, and to spur innovation, ONC will develop tools to facilitate the entire standards lifecycle and maximize re-use of concepts and components, including tools and repository for browsing, selecting, and implementing appropriate standards.


In order to be able to test and implement the standards in real-life settings, they must be specified to a higher degree of detail. This project will focus on the development of interoperability specifications that are independent of specific software architecture (a platform-independent model, or PIM) as well as interoperability specifications that are specific to the NHIN architecture (a platform-specific model, or PSM). 


The NHIN architecture is a specific network architecture that realizes health information interoperability specifications based on open standards. This project will focus on the refinement and management of the NHIN Architecture to meet emerging needs of the health care market.
A reference implementation is the fully instantiated software solution that is analyzed to be compliant with the standards and serves as a “reference” to other software developers of what an interoperable solution looks like. The reference implementation will be accessible as a public resource with compiled code, source code and supporting documentation. 


Integration Testing
The current NHIN testing infrastructure needs to be refined to test and validate emerging needs of the network and planned NHIN capabilities as they are identified. ONC will work with NIST where NIST will provide testing tools to validate that particular implementation conforms to a set of standards specification; and ONC will support the development of an integration testing “harness” that will test how a particular component that has satisfied conformance testing requirements integrates into the reference implementation. 


NHIN Demonstrations and Emergent Pilots
Although a reference implementation provides value to the community through a thorough assessment of the technology; support for established standards, and vetting within the HHS, consumer, and other stakeholders, a reference implementation will need to be refined through real-world pilots and demonstrations. ONC will support efforts in the refinement of the reference implementation and interoperability specifications, through limited number of real world demonstration and pilots. 


NHIN Operations and Infrastructure
This project will focus on activities related to operational and infrastructure support for the ongoing demonstrations and production pilots of health information exchange across a trusted network. 



Each project will focus on specific activities within each area as well as collaboration across all other projects addressing overall effectiveness of the Standards and Interoperability framework, certification and NHIN that is critical to the wider adoption of HIT. ONC expects to award one contract for each project for a two-year project period to qualified applicants.

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