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Why reinvent the wheel?

August 8, 2008
by Brian Albright
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Microsoft and HHS IT vendors team up to promote interagency collaboration

Microsoft has formed an alliance of technology companies to support its connected health and human services (HHS) technology architecture. At the recent Government Health IT Conference & Exhibition, the group outlined its work on the Microsoft Connected HHS Framework (version 2.0 was just announced), which is designed to help providers integrate their internal systems and establish technology links with other agencies.

Because HHS agencies often operate in technologic silos, critical information about clients may be readily available at one agency but not at another. Under the Microsoft framework, agencies could improve program performance by deploying service-oriented architecture (SOA) technology to enable collaboration among agencies; creating a connected HHS hub that provides centralized data access; and developing shared services that can be leveraged by multiple agencies.


"When you talk about HHS, you're talking about multiple agencies that service largely the same populations, but have done so in a disconnected fashion," says Bill O'Leary, executive director of HHS at Microsoft U.S. Public Sector.

Mental health, substance abuse, child welfare, juvenile justice, and other agencies could have a common view of client data, while reducing IT investments by sharing common application functions. The Connected HHS Framework would overlay existing systems, allowing agencies to collaborate without replacing their existing IT infrastructure and applications.

With the increased focus on better communication among these agencies and the pressure to reduce the cost of service delivery, O'Leary says that a new consumer-centric approach is necessary to help coordinate program activities and reduce redundant data collection (such as intake forms that ask for common information).

"There are a whole host of shared services we've been working on with our partners," says O'Leary, who also is the former secretary of Massachusetts' Executive Office of Health and Human Services. "More states and jurisdictions across the country are looking at the benefits of moving to a shared-services environment rather than having agencies buy or build these technology components repetitively."

Partners in the Connected HHS Alliance

Alliance members (see sidebar) have agreed to support the Connected HHS Framework 2.0 within their respective products and through their integration services. The vendors can help their customers bridge existing applications or create shared services during new technology deployments.

"The Alliance is based on these partners agreeing to the HHS vision, and adopting the framework in terms of architecture mapping and how these shared services fit together," says Kevin Dolan, director of the HHS Alliance at Microsoft. "This is a step forward to help agencies collaborate and work together, rather than rebuilding these capabilities for every program."

"There is a huge inefficiency among these agencies because the paperwork has to follow people as they move through the system," says Kevin Scalia, chair of the Software and Technology Vendors’ Association (SATVA) and executive vice-president for corporate development at Netsmart Technologies, an Alliance member. Netsmart provides interagency connectivity among its clients through its standards-based CareConnect product, allowing providers to share data through a Web-based portal on Microsoft .NET.

According to Dolan, agencies could have access to a master index of program recipients shared by multiple HHS divisions, and even extend that capability to related areas such as education or transportation.

"That's a requisite capability for consumer-centered services in HHS," Dolan says. "If that capability exists, it's a technology and service that can be consumed rather than rebuilt, as it has been in the past."