'Direct Project' takes big first step toward interoperability

The first data interchanges among healthcare entities using Direct Project standards have taken place in Minnesota and Rhode Island, and more are expected this month in New York, California, and Tennessee, according to Arien Malec, an ONC official and the director of the public/private initiative that produced the Direct Project. Other Direct Project initiatives will be launched later in Connecticut, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Compatible with the National Health Information Network (NHIN), the Direct Project is a standardized messaging protocol that allows the secure exchange of key clinical data among healthcare providers and between providers and patients. The protocol enables physicians, hospitals, labs, other providers, health information exchanges, and state health departments to send care summaries, referrals and other data online without dedicated interfaces.

Announced at a press conference Wednesday by National Health IT Coordinator David Blumenthal, other Administration officials, and health IT vendors, the Direct Project is designed partly to help physicians and hospitals show meaningful use and obtain health IT incentives. But an equally important focus of the Direct Project is to help providers--especially small, independent practices and community hospitals--exchange vital patient information right now, at a time when mature health information exchanges remain few and far between.

In addition, the Direct Project will allow providers to send electronic records to patients, or to their personal health records. Microsoft HealthVault will allow any individual with a HealthVault PHR to upload patient data via Direct, according to a company spokesman.

But to enable patients to do that, or to use Direct to exchange information online with other physicians, a doctor needs an EHR with Direct messaging capability. According to a list supplied by the Direct Project organizers, the leading EHR vendors that offer this feature include Allscripts, Cerner, Epic, GE, Greenway, and Siemens. That list will have to get much longer before providers will be able to realize the full potential of the Direct Project.

To learn more:
- read the ONC press release
- here's the Government Health IT story
- check out the list of Direct-ready EHR vendors