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Key Participants Reflect on 20 Years of IHE

This year marks a major milestone for IHE: 20 years of promoting standards-based interoperability. As part of the anniversary celebration, IHE is asking participants to share their memories of the organization’s beginning and growth.

Joyce Sensmeier, RN-BC, MS, CPHIMS, FHIMSS, FAAN is Vice President of Informatics at HIMSS and has overseen her organization’s involvement in IHE since 2000. Karen Witting formerly worked for IBM and Ready Computing. She began participating in the IHE IT Infrastructure Domain in 2005 and was instrumental in development of the Cross-enterprise Document Sharing (XDS) Profile, among others.

Early Days

Before joining HIMSS, Sensmeier worked as a nurse informaticist during her hospital’s implementation of an electronic health record (EHR) system. That position gave her early insight into the importance of standards, data consistency, and interoperability.

She attended her first IHE meeting during the RSNA conference in 1999. She recalls that her first impression was that IHE was a welcoming community that was aiming to achieve a global and technical goal. She was also struck how many people from different settings–including vendors and providers–were sitting at the same table.

“You can be a competitor in the marketplace, but when you are in the room as an IHE member, those company logos are very much in the background,” Sensmeier says. “They bring their expertise to solve the problem at hand.”

In 2005, Witting was working for an IBM group focused on sharing healthcare information. “I ended up identifying IHE as the only group that had the complete package for doing that,” she says.

IHE’s Evolving Focus

IHE’s early work primarily focused on connecting radiology systems with hospital information systems. That focus quickly expanded, thanks in part to efforts by Joyce and HIMSS to bring interoperability and infrastructure experts together to address the exchange of health data across systems within the enterprise and, later, across care settings.

“IHE XDS has become the prime standards specification to make that exchange occur. It is being used worldwide to facilitate cross-facility data exchange,” says Sensmeier. “I remember being in the room and watching committee member like Charles Parisot [of GE Healthcare] drawing on a whiteboard to show how it would work.”

IHE started in the Radiology domain and has a branched out to include Cardiology; Eye Care; IT Infrastructure; Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Patient Care Coordination; Patient Care Device; Pharmacy; and Quality, Research, and Public Health.

Once Witting became involved in IHE, she took on a major role in shaping critical standards. She was the first chair of the IT Infrastructure Technical committee and became the primary author of the Cross-community Access (XCA) and Cross-community Patient Discovery (XCPD) profiles. Witting also served on the IHE International Board for nearly seven years.

“The key problem I was working on was how to share healthcare information across a region or health information exchange–or HIE,” she says. Today the profiles she helped author are implemented in exchanges around the world.

The Future of IHE

“I think we are at a crossroads,” says Sensmeier, reflecting on the changing landscape of health information technology. “IHE is foundational to interoperability today. It has traditionally had a provider and document focus, but now we are moving to a data- and consumer-centric future. IHE definitely has a role in that new space.”

IHE accomplishes its work by defining specific interoperability use cases, which focuses on a particular scenario and how to achieve data capture and transfer in that scenario. “We have the ability to continue that use case focus by working with other standards at the element level, like HL7 FHIR,” she says. “Interoperability is a huge problem, and no one standard will solve it. Partnership is critical to the future.”

If you would like to share your experience with IHE over the past two decades, please contact secretary@ihe.net.