Readers interested in health IT issues will want to know about today’s webcast at 1:00 ET, and the policy issue described here by SPM’s policy chair David Harlow (Twitter @HealthBlawg), from the SPM members listserv:

There’s a significant announcement out from the ONC about the Direct Project today.

This initiative is short-circuiting the path to EHR (electronic health record) interoperability, and that’s a good thing.  Secure messaging of patient health data sooner, rather than later.  Read more on my blog (including links to press release and other resources).

160 million people will be “covered” by the Direct Project once every entity that’s signed on as of now gets fully ramped up.

Interesting stat they keep citing:  each primary care provider, on average, coordinates care with 229 doctors across 117 different practices, according to a study of patients covered by fee-for-service Medicare.  Anything to help with that level of communications complexity will be welcome, I’m sure.

For more info, there’s a webinar at 1 ET today: http://www.nationalehealth.org/NHIN301.aspx

———– End of David’s message

Background on The Direct Project and why it matters:

Today’s webcast is by Arien Malec, coordinator of the Direct Project at HHS. I’m no expert on the project, so I’ll be listening to that webcast. Here’s my understanding – I’m sure any mistakes will show up in comments!

The Direct Project is a big deal – in my opinion the biggest deal in history for patient-centered health IT and interoperability of our health data. Both of those are essential for patient-centered innovation, which could be an essential enabler of patient engagement.

Consider the hundreds of physician connections David described above, and consider that nobody gets paid for coordinating it. If you’ve ever coordinated care for a child or elder, you know what that means: a mess, and balls getting dropped everywhere. Now, with the Direct Project, it will be easier for you to collect and distribute the information.

That’s because the Direct Project allows point-to-point (“direct”) communication of your health records, between you and anyone you authorize, without going through a central clearinghouse. That’s a huge enabler of what geeks call “data liquidity” – letting it flow freely, instead of acting like sludge. It was announced last Fall.

Why it matters:

  • First, whose data is it, anyway? It’s mine, it’s yours, and we should be able to send it wherever we want. (Before the Direct Project was announced, there was a chance our data would be clogged up in a large and potentially bureaucratic clearinghouse.)
  • Second, my personal gut feel is that if we can truly get control of our health data and do what we want with it, it can enable the kind of mash-ups and innovation (e.g. “Google Earth for my body”) that many have discussed. Why? Because to innovators, data is fuel: without data a developer has no market. And as I said in 2009, “I want innovation [in health tools] at a rate that resembles the rate of improvement in cell phones and iPods.”  Freeing up data is essential for that.
  • All in all, it’s a big step toward “patient as platform and point of integration,” as Web guru Doc Searls described three years ago after he experienced the consequences of not being able to move his data around. (Our post on it is here.) The idea is that you (your family etc), will become the place where your health data lives. In a sense it’s as  if your financial data lived only at your banks, and you finally got Quicken so you can carry it all with you.

So yeah, the Direct Project is a big deal.


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