IBM has announced a major step toward the creation of a national, interoperable health information exchange by contributing software technology that supports healthcare interoperability to the open source community through the Eclipse Foundation’s Open Healthcare Framework (OHF) project. 

The software provides a mechanism to connect isolated islands of information that reside throughout the healthcare system to a Health Information Exchange (HIE).
Software developers will also be able to build applications that can aggregate and sift through this information to improve healthcare delivery and research while protecting individual privacy.
According to the Centre for Information Technology Leadership, systems that enable standardised information exchange (interoperable data exchange with standardised message formats and content) are by far the best investment for the nation as a whole, with net savings that probably represent 5% of current US healthcare expenditures.
Such capabilities stand to enable more accurate, timely diagnoses that could markedly improve treatments.
OHF, one of the leading efforts to deliver an open source, standards-based platform for healthcare software, has close ties to leading healthcare standards organisations. Any Independent Software Vendor (ISV) will be able to use the tools in OHF to connect their applications to any standards-based infrastructure, including IBM’s HIE.
IBM Research has also established new Healthcare and Life Sciences Innovation Centres spanning its Almaden, Watson, Haifa and Zurich Research Labs. These centres will be a focal point for collaborative work with healthcare clients and qualified IBM Business Partners in the application of key IBM Research expertise and technologies in this field.
“One of the biggest challenges in creating a national interoperable electronic healthcare information infrastructure is the ability to access disparate health records stored in proprietary medical IT systems,” says Joe Jasinski, programme director: healthcare and life sciences at IBM Research.
“By making the client side components of our HIE technology available through OHF, we hope to help solve this problem by providing an easy and affordable way for ISVs to connect their applications to an HIE, where disparate medical data can be accessed and integrated as if stored in a single repository.
“As a result, in the future doctors will be able to access health records from virtually any medical IT system, regardless of where the information resides.”
IBM Research launched the Interoperable Healthcare Information Infrastructure, or IHII project, in 2005 with a prototype health information exchange platform capable of supporting local, regional and national healthcare organisations.
The platform, which implements important new interoperability standards from HL7 and Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE), includes advanced data management algorithms and data mining techniques developed by IBM scientists.
It enables doctors to access and view a patient’s electronic medical records even if those records originate in disparate systems. The IHII project is validating software code components required to instantiate a HIE that conforms to IBM’s Health Information Framework, a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach to connecting the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem.
IBM has since validated open, standards-based healthcare interoperability with more than 20 ISVs, including Mandriva and SynSeer, as well as its ability to provide the client side interfaces for application vendors.
With this contribution to the Eclipse open source community, software developers can now begin building open standards-based applications that tap the technology to help doctors, labs and hospitals adopt electronic medical records.
“The features in OHF will enable a new ecosystem to develop in the healthcare industry,” says Grahame Grieve, project leader, Eclipse OHF project.
“The availability of a lightweight, open source framework will allow eHealth Record (eHR) vendors and other open source eHR efforts to build and test standards-based solutions for interoperability, enabling small and medium clinics and hospitals to participate in the market with large healthcare enterprises.”