So, you've decided that you want to invest time and effort in developing Health IT Standards, and you've convinced your manager that it's worthwhile. What next?
Presumably, you have a specific effort that you want to participate in mind. It could be a standard being developed in HL7, a profile in IHE, or an S&I Framework project. The first step is to join the requisite work group. There are good times and bad times to join a project. The best time to join is in the early stages when it is first being discussed. The worst time is when it is nearing a major deadline, and the pace to complete things has reached its peak. It's difficult to catch up at these times, the best way is to do your reading. Sometimes timing isn't up to you (I've had people tell me I need to get involved in X when X is nearing completion), but if you have some control, its nice to be able to make use of it.
Joining the Organization
Joining any of the previously mentioned organizations can be as easy or as complicated as your organization wants it to be. That's where having management support to navigate purchasing, legal review and organizational commitment issues is important.
Time wise, it can take as little as week (or even a few days if timed right) or as much as a month or two to "become an official member". Don't worry, even if your membership is still being processed, most of the organizations will let you participate in non-voting development activities.
HL7 has a membership fee based on organization type and Health IT revenue or budget, IHE and S&I Framework don't. IHE does have a simple online form and legal agreement (see the last page) that your organization needs to commit to. For S&I Framework, signing up is as simple as editing a wiki page, but you must sign up for each project you want to participate in.
Finding a Project
If you are looking for an HL7 project, there is an RSS Feed for HL7 projects, or there is a searchable project database (you'll need an HL7 login to access that, which is free even if you aren't a member). IHE PCC, IT Infrastructure and Quality, Public Health and Research accept project proposals in Q3 of each year, and approve them in Q4. Anyone can submit a proposal (even non-members). They meet twice for two days, once in October and in November to review the proposals. S&I Framework projects are mostly initiated by ONC, but there are community initiated projects as well. To get one of those started, it helps if you know of some federal agency that has a need. You can find a list of their active projects on the S&I Framework wiki.
Most of the time, participation in these projects is via teleconference and screen sharing applications (Webex, GotoMeeting, or LiveMeeting depending on who is hosting the service). You often bear the cost of the call, and should have decent network access. Skype is often used by members who need to access the call from remote locations, but it's not always reliable. Work group calls are usually weekly or every other week, and last anywhere from 45 - 90 minutes. They sometimes occur more frequently or take longer, especially during crucial periods.
Most work groups have mailing lists, but S&I Framework uses a Wiki as the principal means of off-line communication. Non-members can access many HL7 mailing lists. Most IHE lists on Google groups are members only, but some devoted to implementation are open to all. The S&I Framework wiki is open to anyone.
Face to Face Meetings
Big chunks of work happen at face to face meetings. HL7 has working group meetings three times a year (January, May and September) that last 5 days each. Larger work groups use all that time, smaller ones may meet one or two days during that week. One of them is typically internationally located. In IHE, there are meetings three times annually for profile development, lasting from 4-5 days each. Each domain (working group) has its own schedule, driven typically by the domains largest industry conference (which is where their work gets demonstrated). PCC, QRPH, and ITI have these meetings February, May and June. There are two 2-day meetings at the beginning of the development cycle for approving new work items (Nctober and November for the domains above). IHE meetings are often internationally located, but the three domains I just mentioned typically meet in the Chicago area 3 - 4 times a year.
S&I Framework doesn't have regularly scheduled face to face meetings, but you can expect about 2-3 a year, lasting 2-3 days each, usually in the DC area.
This is enough to get you started, my next post will talk about how the work gets done, and how you can contribute.