Direct Project gathers steam, finalizes protocol

More than 60 healthcare and health IT organizations, including state-based and private sector health information exchanges, leading IT vendors, and several leading integrated delivery systems, are supporting or plan to support the Direct Project, a national standardized protocol for secure clinical messaging. The Direct Project was developed by a private-public consortium that includes the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

According to Doug Fridsma, MD, an ONC official, the health IT vendors backing the Direct Project will bring along 90 percent of their customer base--evidently by providing them with software updates. In addition, the 20 states participating in the Direct Project represent nearly half of the U.S population, Fridsma noted.

There are a couple of holes in that argument. Most state-sponsored health information exchange projects still are in their early stages. And while several important hospital and ambulatory care EHR vendors are in the Direct Project column, many others are not, at least for now. But there's definitely movement in support of Direct.

The Direct Project's cosponsors, meanwhile, have finalized the specifications of their protocol. These specs include the core Direct Project requirements and a description of how EHRs and other health IT systems can leverage the Direct Project to securely exchange direct messages. The latter is especially important for the exchange of patient data related to referrals between physicians.

A new specification harmonizes the Direct Project with Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (HIE) protocols that many vendors already use to exchange data in hospitals. And the Direct Project program has finally provided a partial definition of a healthcare Internet service provider (HISP). The Applicability Statement for Simple Health Transport outlines the core requirements for a system to declare itself a fully qualified and compliant HISP.

To learn more:
- see the list of Direct Project participants
- read the Applicability Statement for Simple Health Transport