CONNECT Frequently Asked Questions

What is CONNECT?
CONNECT is a software solution that organizations can use to securely link their existing health IT systems into the health information exchanges. The CONNECT solution enables secure and interoperable electronic health information exchanges with other Nationwide Health Information Network compliant organizations, including federal agencies, state, tribal and local-level health organizations, and healthcare participants in the private sector.

CONNECT has three primary components:

  • The Core Services Gateway implements the core Nationwide Health Information Network services enabling such functions as locating patients at other health organizations within the Nationwide Health Information Network, requesting and receiving documents associated with the patient, and recording these transactions for subsequent auditing by patients and others. Other features include authenticating network participants, formulating and evaluating authorizations for the release of medical information, and honoring consumer preferences for sharing their information. New services will be created and current services will be enhanced as the Nationwide Health Information Network interoperability specifications continue development in the coming months and years.
  • The Enterprise Service Component (ESC) provides default implementations of many critical enterprise components required to support electronic health information exchange, including a Master Patient Index (MPI), Document Registry and Repository, Authorization Policy Engine, Consumer Preferences Manager, HIPAA-compliant Audit Log and others. Agencies are free to adopt the default enterprise component implementations packaged in the CONNECT ESC or to plug in existing agency implementations of these service components. This component also includes a software development kit (SDK) for developing adapters to plug in existing systems such as electronic health record solutions to turn on information flows to support the secure exchange of health information across the Nationwide Health Information Network. This makes CONNECT a platform for participation in health information exchanges.
  • The Universal Client Framework contains a set of applications that can be adapted to quickly create an edge system, and be used as a reference system, and/or can be used as a test and demonstration system for the gateway solution. This makes it possible to innovate on top of the existing CONNECT platform.

What is the Nationwide Health Information Network?
The Nationwide Health Information Network is the set of standards, services and policies that enable the secure exchange of health information over the Internet. This critical part of the national health IT agenda will enable health information to follow the consumer, be available for clinical decision making, and support appropriate use of healthcare information beyond direct patient care, so as to improve population health. For more information, visit http://www.healthit.gov/policy-researchers-implementers/nationwide-health-information-network. 

Who built CONNECT?
More than 20 federal agencies collaborated to build CONNECT to tie their health IT systems into the Nationwide Health Information Network. The agencies collaborated through the Federal Health Architecture program and built a single solution that can be reused by each agency within its own environment. The development was managed by the Federal Health Architecture and executed under contract by Harris Corporation and their partners Agilex Technologies and ScenPro.

What does CONNECT do?
CONNECT is meant to be used by an organization for connecting their edge system(s) into health information exchanges to engage in the secure exchange of interoperable health information.

What are the objectives of CONNECT?
The initial objective for CONNECT was to build a single solution that can help more than 20 federal agencies tie their health IT systems into the Nationwide Health Information Network. The collaborative approach was adopted to drive down development costs for each agency and ensure that a solution was available that met federal regulations and requirements for health IT interoperability.

Because the solution was built in open source, it has now been made available for use throughout the healthcare industry. This helps to fulfill an added objective for CONNECT, which is to serve as a platform for innovation. The solution can be downloaded for free, and industry is encouraged to download it, improve upon it, build additional solutions with it and resell the product into the public and private sectors.

Who can use CONNECT?
Any organization can download and use the CONNECT solution. In addition, vendors can white label the product, build solutions on top of it and resell it to their customers. 

Who is already using CONNECT?
Successful demonstrations of CONNECT have occurred on multiple occasions. So far, seven federal agencies have demonstrated the feasibility of sharing data with each other and with private sector organizations using CONNECT. In addition, multiple states, private sector organizations and health IT vendors have begun piloting the software.

In February 2009, CONNECT was used for the first time in a live production environment with the Social Security Administration requesting and receiving data from MedVirginia through Nationwide Health Information Network-enabled exchange.

What benefits does CONNECT provide?
The potential benefits of the using CONNECT include:

  • Coordinating care across public and private care sectors. Providers will have access to medical records throughout the continuum of care, regardless of whether the treatment facilities are in the government or private sector
  • Ensuring that Americans receive health-related benefits to which they are entitled in a timely manner
  • Enhancing federal, state and local agency response to public health emergencies, including disasters and pandemic diseases
  • Speeding the dissemination of clinical and scientific research results to government, industry and the scientific community to benefit population health
  • Improving regulation of pharmaceutical products and medical devices through faster, more comprehensive and more accurate detection of adverse drug events

Why is CONNECT an open source project?
Federal agencies’ decision to build CONNECT as an open source project provides two major benefits. First, it means that the jointly-developed solution can be used by each agency at minimal cost, and enhancements funded and made by one agency can be used by others.

Second, it means that the solution can become a platform for industry-wide healthcare information exchange. Any commercial software vendor can adapt the code, put their brand name on it and bundle it with services, if they choose.

The copyright license on the CONNECT source code is the “Three-Clause BSD” license, certified as an open source license by the Open Source Initiative. This license places very few restrictions on modification and redistribution, meaning that it can adapted to and included within software licensed under any other terms, such as proprietary software, or software as a service. The intent is to see a variety of commercial activity develop around the CONNECT project.

How much does CONNECT cost?
The software download is free, though an organization opting to use the solution should be aware it will be responsible for costs associated with implementing and maintaining the solution within its own environment. You can also consult the commercial provider pages on this site for support and other options.

How is CONNECT addressing security issues?
The Nationwide Health Information Network “trust fabric” is established via the combination of operating procedures, the data use and reciprocal sharing agreement (DURSA) and the Nationwide Health Information Network service interface specifications. The DURSA is the legal basis for the trust fabric, the operating procedures encapsulate Nationwide Health Information Network-specific operating policies forming the operational and management basis for trust, and the Nationwide Health Information Network service interface specifications are the technical basis of trust in the Nationwide Health Information Network. CONNECT is the technical implementation of the security and privacy controls defined in the Nationwide Health Information Network services, and when implemented and combined with the Nationwide Health Information Network operating procedures and the DURSA, it allows organizations to participate in the web of trust that enables the secure exchange of interoperable health information among the participants of the Nationwide Health Information Network.

These controls include the implementation of server based PKI and the Nationwide Health Information Network NHIE service registry which define and secure the Nationwide Health Information Network core backbone. The messaging platform and authorization framework implement additional security and privacy controls to address the known threats for Web services implementations of service-oriented-architectures. The audit log query service is designed to meet the requirements for HIPAA disclosure accounting. The consumer preferences profile allows consumers to express their preferences for whether or not to share their information on the Nationwide Health Information Network and for more granular control over access to their private information. The CONNECT policy engine enforces those preferences in the runtime environment to insure that the access policies of the organization and the preferences of the consumer are honored in the decision to release health information in response to a request from the Nationwide Health Information Network.

Federal agencies using CONNECT must adhere to FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002) requirements in addition to meeting the HIPAA requirements. CONNECT has been engineered to meet these more exacting security requirements and is undergoing the HHS Security Certification and Accreditation (C&A) process. For those implementing CONNECT that are required to undergo a C&A in order to get an authority to operate in their environment, they will be able to leverage the security testing that CONNECT has undergone for the HHS C&A to speed them through their own process. Private sector organizations using CONNECT get the benefit of a solution that is built to meet the more stringent requirements that the federal agencies must meet in their operational systems.

How can I get a copy of CONNECT?
You can download CONNECT and view product documentation here.

What are CONNECT Code-A-Thons?
CONNECT Code-A-Thons are events where programmers in the CONNECT Community convene to work together on projects related to CONNECT, the open source software launched by the Federal Health Architecture within the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. A Code-A-Thon is a form of hackathon, which is a term well defined by Wikipedia at this link.

CONNECT Code-A-Thons typically last two days and include short plenary sessions where experts provide detail about their experiences in the open source community, and program personnel provide insight into the current and future architecture of the CONNECT solution. This is followed by hands-on programming where attendees break up into groups and work on CONNECT projects they are interested in. People come together to work on what they want to with little to no restrictions on direction or goal of the programming.

CONNECT Code-A-Thons are attended by professionals and students, representing federal and state agencies, healthcare providers, insurance companies, health information exchanges, cities, universities and health IT vendors, among other health stakeholders.

The events occur quarterly and are hosted at locations throughout the country, often universities.

Attendees determine what they want to work on during the events, but common topics for development include:

  • CONNECT Platform Neutrality
  • Testing, Performance Metrics and Benchmarking
  • Automated Installation, Setup and Testing
  • Auditing
  • Bug Fixes
  • Security Controls
  • Generic File Transfer
  • Universal Client

How do I learn about the CONNECT releases?
When a new release of CONNECT is released, within two to three weeks the CONNECT program management team hosts a public Webinar to educate interested parties about what is in the new release and the value of the newly-added features. To make sure you receive emails that alert you about upcoming Webinars, please sign up on this site to receive updates.

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