Repository bridges DOD's disparate medical systems

The HIRS system has grown into a
time-saving online resource for health systems developers, managers and doctors throughout
DOD, says Lt. Col. (Select) Garnel Alford, HIRS program manager.

What if all the project management tools, data models and documents you need to do the
job were always up-to-date and instantly available via the Web?

That idea inspired military health system officials to design the Health Information
Resources Service (HIRS).

Back in 1994 when Air Force Lt. Col. (Select) Garnel Alford first got involved with
HIRS, it seemed highly unlikely that health officials would ever move medical data back
and forth between the Defense Department’s incompatible systems.

But HIRS has grown into a time-saving online resource of products and services
accessible via the Web, Alford said. It is used not just by health systems developers but
also by medical managers, doctors and data administrators throughout DOD.

“There are so many facets to the project,” said Alford, the HIRS program
manager and the Air Force’s deputy director of the Tri-Service Infrastructure
Management Program Office.

The Air Force Medical Support Agency, Office of the Surgeon General, Army Medical
Department and other authorized personnel with secure accounts can access HIRS resources
at via the Defense Information Systems Network.

The technical feature that makes HIRS unique is a metadata repository with what Alford
called unique bridging capabilities.

System designers, for example, can submit data models developed using the IE:Advantage
computer-aided software engineering tool from Visible Systems Corp. of Waltham, Mass., and
get back the same data models converted for use in the ERwin data modeling tool from the
Logic Works unit of Platinum Technology Inc. of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.

“You can do it automatically, without even talking to us, and it takes only 15 to
30 seconds,” Alford said.

HIRS project engineers and Meta Integration Technology Inc. of Los Altos, Calif., did
the integration work. “I’d say we’re running roughly 18 tools in an
integrated fashion that weren’t originally intended to operate in an integrated
fashion,” Alford said.

Not only is the HIRS metadata repository unusual, it also has a nonpersistent
repository built on top, Alford said.

The nonpersistent repository, a collection of metamodels presented as Java and C++
class libraries for Unix and Microsoft Win32 application programming interfaces, guards
the government from too-close ties to any particular repository environment.

“That’s our unique piece of work,” Alford said. The nonpersistent
repository architecture means that we can always switch to another repository if anything
should change or go away, he said.

The HIRS program office paid for the custom work required to build the direct tool
bridges and repository bridges for HIRS. Other agencies are free to bring HIRS integration
technology into their sites at no additional cost, Alford said.

The National Security Agency, Defense Logistics Agency and Air Force Electronic Systems
Center have already done so, he said.

Other HIRS resources, hosted on nine separate servers running SunSoft Solaris and
Microsoft Windows NT, consist of project management tools, document repositories,
configuration management lifecycle tools, text-based search tools, computer-aided design
viewers, online forums and site navigation tools.

The largest HIRS server is a Sun Microsystems Ultra 4000 running SunSoft Solaris 2.5 at
Brooks Air Force Base, Texas.

Defense employees can use HIRS to share expensive software engineering programs.
Authorized personnel with only a Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer
browser, for example, can use any HIRS tools without having to spend upwards of $15,000
for a tool set for each location, Alford said.

Based on its HIRS work, the program office has received funding from the Health Care
Financing Administration and Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health
Affairs to develop a data registry.

The program office also has accepted the task of developing an operational prototype
for the Air Force Defense Information Infrastructure’s Common Data Environment.

“I’m going to step on my soapbox” as a steward of federal funds, Alford


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