Open Health Tools Initiative Targets 2009 for Major Release

By Maureen McKinney

April 15, 2008 | After two years of planning, a new open source collaborative site called Open Health Tools (OHT) is available to users, and will eventually offer a wide range of free tools and software for expediting EHR implementation and facilitating interoperability, says Skip McGaughy, OHT’s executive director. The goal is to have many of the tools up and running by early 2009 according to McGaughy.

On April 8, OHT announced support from a number of government health care consumers such as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), and Australia’s National E-Health Transition Authority. OHT also has a stable of standards organizations — among them HL7 and the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation — and a large group of vendors including Oracle, IBM, Inpriva, and B2 International.

“The problem we are trying to solve is the need to bring information from very divergent sources to health care providers and clinicians, and this requires a collaborative community to help design, develop, and deploy the technology for interoperability,” explained McGaughy, who was also one of the original founders of Eclipse Foundation, another open source community. The model for OHT is based on Eclipse’s platform, he added.

When OHT’s tool suite is complete, it will include the Common Health Interoperability Framework, as well as adapters and transformers that will enable users to bring legacy data into an interoperable network. That is an essential component, according to McGaughy, because in addition to new tooling and applications, the platform has to provide methods for integrating existing records.

The site will also offer free technology for enhancing security and privacy of patient information, and tools that will enable web reporting. One of the greatest advantages offered by the free software is that it affords vendors the time to focus on other projects while still adding important features to their solutions.

For instance, one of the tools currently available is code from NHS that will help users to implement HL7 messaging. If a vendor picks up the code and embeds it in their product, they are not obligated to give any credit to OHT or NHS, and are free to brand and distribute their solution in any way they choose. Vendors can also feel secure taking code from the platform because it’s already been exhaustively tested, McGaughy said.

“The odds are that if two vendors are in competition with one another, the second vendor will also embed that HL7 messaging code in their solution because there are no restrictions,” he explained. “Then those two vendors can interoperate using that code. We’ve seen with the Eclipse model that if you provide high quality, free software with minimal restrictions, it does work.”

For the first major charter project, members will head up different projects to develop a variety of software and tools concurrently. For instance, the NHS has contributed the HL7 messaging code, and has also added an XML processing engine.

Oregon State University is hosting OHT’s site and all of its downloadable activities, and will also provide tools that verify interoperability standards.

“We’ve got academic institutions, commercial vendors, standards organizations, and consumers — all of whom bring very diverse backgrounds and interests to the table,” McGaughy said. “There’s no reason why we can’t provide systems that interoperate.”

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