There is no health Internet, but there is

The problems of doctors and the CIA have more in common than you think. Both are better when you get as much intelligence as possible in the right form to the right hands.

The National Health Information Network (NHIN) has been described as "the health Internet."

It's not. It is, in fact, a private network with its own rules and requirements that lives inside the existing Internet.

I learned this in a HIMSS briefing yesterday at the booth of Harris Corp., which built NHIN, under the driving force of vice president for healthcare solutions Jim Traficant (right).

Traficant became committed to better transport of health records after his second liver transplant. (He also nearly died of septic shock.) The NHIN project was built under a Defense contract (Harris' strong suit), but the vision is all Traficant.

He said the problems of doctors and the CIA have more in common than you think. Both are better when you get as much intelligence as possible in the right form to the right hands.

The military's goal with the network was to help fulfill a pledge it made to our soldiers, a single unified health record that could follow them from induction, through service, into the Veterans Administration, and through the private sector.

This turns out to be an enormous systems integration job. The military has a system for health records called AHLTA. The VA has a different one, VistA. And many records are actually in private hands, in a variety of formats, under a variety of software.

So NHIN facilitates their movement. Getting into the network takes technology, clearances, contracts and training. All these elements are also required for private health records and scans to be transferred securely under HIPAA.

As Bart Harmon, Harris' new chief medical officer (and former chief medical information officer at the Department of Defense) explained it, the resulting network is "an encrypted, PKI-protected virtual community on the Internet."

Once you're in, you can transfer both health records and scans quickly and securely. It's the connection AHLTA and the VA need to keep our heroes well. But it's the same thing hospitals need, in a mobile society, to keep you well.

None of this is perfect yet. But it has been funded, and it is scaling. This is in keeping with how the Internet itself developed, first as a military necessity, then as a civilian business.

Harris has put itself in position to profit from this transition, but to Traficant this is secondary to making the data transfers happen. Once he nearly died when they didn't. He has dedicating the rest of his working life to keep it from happening to you.

Not all my heroes are soldiers.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com