IHE challenges IT vendors to take up integration cause

February 28, 2001

As the IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) initiative moves into its third year, can organizers begin to call it a success? Companies that have consistently participated in its planning and execution are giving IHE a clear thumbs-up, and a

As the IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) initiative moves into its third year, can organizers begin to call it a success? Companies that have consistently participated in its planning and execution are giving IHE a clear thumbs-up, and a trickle-down effect is beginning to emerge. But IHE is still a long way from being a runaway hit.

To its credit, IHE has yielded some important advances in the technical framework in the first two years, notably the integration profiles developed by the IHE technical committee to address fundamental components of the workflow process. Because IHE has focused primarily on the integration of radiology images and information, the profiles are geared toward the work habits of radiology departments. Adoption of these profiles by vendors is critical to achieving the level of interoperability necessary to move hospitals and healthcare organizations into a truly integrated environment. A number of vendors have already incorporated some or all of the integration profiles into products now on the market, and customers reportedly are beginning to specify IHE compliance in their requests for proposal.

A number of challenges remain, however. Within radiology, much of the functionality required to interface RIS and PACS to enterprise information systems still needs to become real. True standardized reporting, a necessary underpinning of any electronic patient record, is in its infancy.

In addition, most information systems vendors are not participating in the IHE demos, and only a handful are part of the planning and technical committees. This prompted the HIMSS leadership to take a more aggressive approach to IT companies that attended the recent HIMSS meeting, urging them to participate more fully in the IHE demo.

Real pressure to join in, however, will build only when specialties outside radiology embrace IHE. And that day may not be far off. IHE watchers speculate that IHE demos specific to other medical specialties will soon begin to appear, crossing the boundaries that separate disciplines and moving us in the direction of the truly integrated electronic patient record. These demos will be conducted at professional meetings where the needs of each discipline will be emphasized. IHE organizers are already well along in talks with groups outside radiology, including cardiology, ophthalmology, and pathology.

When that happens, these two camps, medical practitioners and IT vendors, will complement each other, providing incentives for all practitioners and the vendor community to climb aboard. The next step will be an internalization of IHE by the customer, who will make IHE compliance an essential component of equipment acceptance. Only then will IHE be able to achieve its true potential.

2/28/01, Issue # 1504, page 8.