(Fort Detrick, Md.) - Who would choose to visit Chicago in the dead of winter? Sgt. 1st Class Michael Joslin for one.
To see the Bears or the Bulls? No. Stroll the Field Museum? Uh-uh. Joslin will spend five days in mid-January as a monitor in a roomful of systems engineers, assessing their healthcare systems' interoperability.
Still don't get it? Consider that Joslin's exposure to these world-class minds is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tap expertise and test systems, packing into days what might otherwise take a decade to learn.
"In this one week, I'll get in-depth knowledge of almost all of the systems out there," says Joslin, deputy program manager of Image Management Systems at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency's Integrated Clinical Systems Program Management Office (PM-ICS). "Since part of my job at ICS is to make recommendations as to equipment and systems the Army will purchase, this information is invaluable."
Joslin has won a coveted spot on the monitoring team of the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) 2011 Connectathon. From January 17-21 more than 150 healthcare vendors will set up their systems in a room at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, enabling more than 500 systems engineers to test IHE health profiles and see how well the vendors' systems work with others.
Monitors will act as independent testers, asking participants to repeat tests in real time or provide proof of their success. This year's 2011 Connectathon will test profiles in anatomic pathology, cardiology, information technology (IT) infrastructure, laboratory, patient care coordination, patient care devices, radiology, and quality, research and public health.
As a member of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM), Joslin was encouraged to apply for placement on the team.
SIIM Executive Director Anna Marie Mason explains, "SIIM is a sponsoring organization of IHE, due to our interest in promoting the adoption of interoperable healthcare IT systems and electronic patient records. This year 11 individuals submitted complete applications and met eligibility requirements."
This may be Joslin's first time attending the Connectathon, but he boasts an impressive resume with technical credentials. As a registered radiology technologist and certified imaging informatics professional, he has considerable experience in radiology workflow, as well as working with both Health Level 7 and IHE standards. Of particular importance is Joslin's deep expertise with picture archiving and communications systems (PACS), a complex, evolving system that enables the storage and retrieval of electronic images.
"When some of the earlier PACS were being installed at Army sites, I was placed in charge of the project at Fort Huachuca [Ariz.]," says Joslin. "Since then, I have been stationed at the 121 hospital [Seoul, South Korea], Womack Army Medical Center [Fort Bragg, N.C.] and Madigan AMC [Tacoma, Wash.]."
"At all of these locations I have worked as a system administrator for their PACS systems," Joslin continues. "The fact that I changed location, and [each] location had a different system, gave me a very broad knowledge base."
In his current position as program manager, Joslin oversees the lifecycle management of imaging systems at all Army medical facilities and the testing of all new PACS installed Armywide.
For decades hospitals and healthcare providers have been slowly migrating from paper-based to electronic systems to increase efficiency and accuracy in record-keeping and ultimately improve patient care. The clinical data alone holds promise, as it could be used to accelerate medical knowledge and encourage evidence-based medicine.
The future of all these developments hinges on how well systems work together - and the Connectathon is one vital tool in that effort. Since 1998 the Connectathon has grown from hosting 24 to more than 150 vendors, drawing such stalwarts as Oracle and Microsoft, and what began as a North American initiative has now expanded to annual events in Europe and Asia.
The explosion of interest is no accident. This year the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, part of the 2009 stimulus package, will start offering hospitals and physicians incentives to adopt health information technology. By 2015 the incentives will phase out, and those failing to migrate to electronic systems will face penalties.
Carefully testing systems, correcting problems and then retesting systems might appear a plodding process in our fast digital age. But it's the dedicated engineers who'll win the interoperability race.
"I expect [the Connectathon] to go through highs and lows of chaos, as tests start and stop," adds Joslin. "Most of the vendors will be making actual changes to the systems on the fly if things don't connect. I think in general it will be a very collaborative event, since every connection depends on all systems working correctly."
For more information on the IHE Connectathon, visit www.ihe.net/Connectathon.