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Can Michigan Developers Improve Health-Care Data Interoperability?

Michigan Health Information Network Shared Services is partnering with AWS on tech challenge events in which participants use an open-source sandbox to create health-care solutions that support data interoperability.

Businessperson in suit holds a white plus sign among several other cyan-colored medical network connection icons.
Patients’ health-care journeys can see them engage with a wide array of health and human service providers, ranging from doctors, specialists and pharmacists to nursing home staff, social program providers and first responders.

But dangerous knowledge gaps can emerge if these providers aren’t able to easily share information with each other, according to Michigan’s state-designated health information exchange, the Michigan Health Information Network Shared Services (MiHIN). To combat this, MiHIN is looking to encourage more developers and organizations to design their health-care IT in ways that support interoperability. The Interoperability Institute — a separate nonprofit created by the MiHIN to focus on health-care interoperability — and AWS announced on June 7 that they are co-launching a “virtual innovation center” called Interop.WORLD, which will provide a “common business architecture on AWS” and also host a series of challenges.

“Interop.WORLD will provide participants an opportunity to test new ideas, collaborate on pressing challenges facing the sector and establish shared resources for the next generation of [health-care IT],” per the announcement.

An example of the work is a pilot project around electronic consent management services that aims to help substance abuse clinics get patient permission to share information about their treatment with other care providers. Otherwise, “without this timely information, healthcare providers are potentially prescribing opioids to an unknown opioid abuser,” per the MiHIN 2022 report.

The upcoming challenge events will be a cross between a hackathon and a connectathon, said MiHIN Executive Director Tim Pletcher during a press Q&A. Challenge participants will create cloud-based solutions using an open-source health data sandbox.


MiHIN sees quick, secure health-care information sharing as key to avoiding dangerous medical mistakes, by giving all providers complete knowledge of patient records.

The benefits of information sharing aren’t just for individuals — such practices can help on a broader, societal level too, per MiHIN. Data sharing can enable entities to better track public health and to respond more quickly to outbreaks.

But health and human service providers aren’t always eager to start sharing their data, Pletcher said. For one, entities may be concerned it will lose them revenue.

“We all know it’s the right thing to do. But it’s actually really hard to get groups to sort of invest energy in work that’s not really going to add value to them, but to some other group,” Pletcher said.

Changing this picture can involve making interoperability “the path of least resistance” and providing incentives, he said.

Entities and individuals participating in the forthcoming challenge events will be tasked with creating solutions using an open-source, health-sector sandbox called Meld.

That sandbox is freely available in the public domain, Pletcher said, and it supports certain health-care data exchange standards. Meld provides a common environment in which developers can test out and explore solutions.

The sandbox also comes populated with synthetic health-care data that can be plugged into those solutions, allowing them to be safely tested. Using the sandbox can help developers learn about interoperability standards.

“That synthetic data is designed for people to be able to understand how the standards work,” Pletcher said.


The upcoming challenge events are aimed at entities and individuals involved in developing or implementing technology. They’ll be tasked with using cloud technology to tackle health-care problems, per a press release. The challenges are expected to focus on areas like maternal health data sharing, electronic consent processes, health equity initiatives and training the next-generation workforce.

MiHIN has previously written on electronic consent. Electronic consent management deals with situations in which patients need to give written permission before their health-care provider can share certain private details with another party. According to MiHIN, “Although laws require this written consent, there has been no standard written form for patients to use for providing consent. This lack of standardization has led to confusion and conflicting consent forms and has become a barrier to information sharing and care coordination.”

The Interop.WORLD challenges could take a variety of forms.

“The challenge events will offer a series of activities, from defining the problem/health-sector challenge, to business process modeling, to reviewing standards and technologies, to ‘work backwards’ from the challenge to creating or advancing HIT solutions — and culminate in an interactive event for innovators to demonstrate compelling solutions on the Meld platform,” Pletcher said in an email.

Pletcher dubbed the forthcoming event an “inter-act-athon,” something he said combines the ideas of a hackathon and a connectathon. Hackathons see developers create and present new ideas to tackle challenges, while health-care connectathons focus on vetting and testing softwares to verify they meet interoperability needs.

The challenge events are intended to bring stakeholders together.

“We’ve just recently announced a collaboration with AWS to create these virtual integration centers, to be able to help folks — or what we call communities of practice — organize around the sandbox and synthetic data sets to tackle problems,” Pletcher said.

During the events, participants will also be able to get support from AWS, the Interoperability Institute and “other industry experts” who can assist with “advice, collaboration and building of conceptual models,” per the announcement.

While details of the challenges are still being hammered out, “at this moment, it will cost money to participate — but not much,” Pletcher said in an email.

Finalists will win credits toward use of a proprietary sandbox that, like Meld, is hosted in AWS. This sandbox, called Interoperability Land, also provides synthetic health data, but has a cost to use as well as additional features. It also allows users to conduct their activities outside the public domain, Pletcher said.

“The funding amount will be given to finalists to cover influx in their AWS utilization based on the event or post-event interoperability world solutions,” he wrote.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.