FHA, ONC transition CONNECT interoperability project to the private sector

The Federal Health Architecture and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT ended federal support for the decade-old CONNECT data exchange project on September 6.

CONNECT is an open source software and community project, jointly developed 10 years ago by FHA and ONC as another way to harness the expertise of software developers and promote interoperability across the U.S. healthcare system.

While FHA and ONC will no longer maintain or update the CONNECT wiki, officials said, it will continue to exist as an open source project whose code and community resources can be “used, adopted and implemented by any interested organization,” according to the wiki.

Developers can contribute bug fixes and new features back into the source code, and to the greater community, where health organizations can use its software to help establish health information exchanges and otherwise share data using its interoperability standards.

The caveat, however, is that with the government no longer involved, the health agencies cannot “endorse or verify the quality” those resources previously managed under FHA’s guidance.

In a blog post on the ONC website, Avinash Shanbhag, director of the Nationwide Health Information Network Division at HHS, and Sherilyn Pruitt, director of the Office of Programs and Engagement at ONC, explained the move,

They wrote: “This past decade, we have witnessed steady improvements to healthcare interoperability. For those paying close attention, the CONNECT open source project has played a role in making those improvements possible. Now the time has come for the community at large to determine the future of CONNECT.”

A decade ago, FHA and ONC “opted to build a joint health interoperability solution, instead of each agency developing a custom solution to connect, and they had the forethought to make the project open source,” they explained.

“This decision ensured CONNECT software was available to any organization, including non-governmental organizations, that needed a technical means to connect to the network, which ultimately became the eHealth Exchange.”

Over the past 10 years, CONNECT has enabled many advances, they point out. “It electronically connected federal agencies and private sector organizations to the eHealth Exchange. It provided code reused by private developers as part of their own electronic health record and interoperability solutions. And notably, it helped test early interoperability specifications, which allowed standards development organizations to better provide feedback and promote standards.”

Now, after a decade of FHA stewardship – it led the project in coordination with its managing partners, HHS, DoD, VA and the Social Security Administration – federal CONNECT development has ended and the project is now in the hands of the private sector.

The final version of the software, CONNECT 5.3, was released this past July.

Portions of CONNECT’s open source code “can today be found in private sector offerings across the industry,” Shanbhag and Pruitt note.

“We have watched the ongoing development of CONNECT and appreciate the hard work by our federal partners to ensure its success,” they said. “By implementing and testing emerging healthcare interoperability standards, the federal agencies that support the development of CONNECT performed a real service to our country.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

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