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Microsoft in late February delivered what it claims is an extensible architectural foundation to simplify a problem that has plagued health care IT—interoperability and integration among a variety of health care solutions.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is offering the Connected Health Framework Architecture and Design Blueprint as a free download, the company announced in conjunction with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Conference in New Orleans in late February.

In addition to the Blueprint, Microsoft said it was also offering the Health Connection Engine, described in a statement as a standards-based set of Web services that “enable health organizations to quickly deploy solutions to improve interoperability, clinical collaboration and decision-making tools.”

Microsoft said in a statement that this technology, together with partner tools, could offer “positive change to the health care industry.”

Microsoft could not be reached directly to comment on the program, beyond its statement.

But most observers agree on the importance of creating a framework that enables silos of health care information to work together.

“IT-enabled process improvement is at the heart of federal health care policy initiatives and a key agenda item for health care industry leaders,” said Marc Holland, program director for Health Provider Research at IDC’s Health Industry Insights, in a statement.

“The ability to integrate patient information stored in a variety of data sources across the entire continuum of care is essential to this effort, and SOA [service oriented architecture] is a critical enabling technology.”

Microsoft is not the first organization looking to create such a framework. The Eclipse Open Healthcare Framework addresses “part of a need to improve the levels of interoperability between applications and systems within and across health care organizations—corporate and regions,” the organization said, describing the project.

Eclipse said the project will implement extensible frameworks and exemplary tools for implementations of key health informatics standards. In addition, it is designed to help achieve the goals of government to encourage the use of interoperable open-source infrastructure to lower integration barriers.

The frameworks, components and tools created by this project will be used by vendors and integrators to build workstation applications, gateways and server applications in healthcare infrastructures, according to Eclipse, an open-source community whose projects are focused on providing a vendor-neutral open development platform and application frameworks for building software. IBM, Intel, and Sybase are among the organization’s members. But the membership rolls do not include Microsoft.

Microsoft said that its Connected Health Framework Architecture and Design Blueprint offers a vendor-agnostic approach for addressing integration and solutions within health care organizations.

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Microsoft said in a statement that Sutter Health, an association of hospitals in Northern California, used several Microsoft technologies including Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003, Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and Microsoft SQL Server 2005.

With these technologies and using the Framework’s architectural guidelines, Sutter implemented an early detection and treatment program for severe sepsis in intensive care unit patients. Sutter said it has saved 50 lives so far and nearly $1 million in costs.

The Connected Health Framework Architecture and Design Blueprint is Microsoft’s first in a series of guidance documents and toolsets aimed at the health care provider community, the software giant said in a statement.