Interoperability, that holy grail of meaningful use of health information technology, remains a stretch goal for much of the industry. With the grand opening of a new lab in Cleveland, HIMSS hopes to change all of that and actually accelerate interoperability and thus health information exchange.

The HIMSS Innovation Center, a 30,000-square-foot facility opened its doors in mid-October. Located on the fourth floor of the new Global Center for Health Innovation, the center will include space for year-round testing and validation.

Connectivity testing at the site hasn't begun yet, but should be rolled out by spring, says Sandra Vance, senior director of interoperability initiatives at HIMSS. "It will improve the ability of smaller organizations to be able to test right alongside larger organizations," says Vance.

In the meantime, hospitals can register online for tours of the space, which includes an exhibition area with rotating displays of new technology, and interoperability demonstrations at www.himssinnovationcenter.org.

At the center, hospital administrators, vendors, and IT experts can see how their electronic health records talk to other EHRs — and whether they can communicate effectively with particular medical devices. "Are they meeting the current regulations? Are they providing functionality that is worthwhile to invest in? That sort of thing," Vance explains.

Hospitals can also test the compatibility of speech recognition software, scanning software, and clinical information systems.

HIMMS announced its partnership with the Global Center last February, after a similar project in Nashville fell through. Part Epcot Center for health care with displays open to the general public, part technology center for the health care industry, the Global Center includes demonstration areas for new technology by vendors including GE Health, Johnson Controls, Philips, Steris, Cardinal Health, and Cisco.

Four Cleveland-area hospital systems, including Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, are partners in the Global Center. If hospital administrators want to see a piece of new equipment in action, they can set up an appointment at the center to visit one of the surrounding hospitals that has the equipment, says Dave Johnson, spokesman for the Global Center.

Johnson estimates that the HIMSS space will have 100,000 visitors a year. "There's so much interest in the industry for this," he says. "They see that this can be open 365 days a year and will have sufficient traffic."