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Who needs a Healthcare Federation?

by on March 2, 2012

Over the last few years, the open source software package Shibboleth has been adopted by access management federations worldwide for single sign-on.

But healthcare organisations and communities are often unable to join such federations because membership is largely confined to academic institutions. This has led many of them to contact Eduserv wondering if they are missing out or being left behind.

As I mentioned in my last post, we created the OpenAthens Federation to help our customers in the healthcare sector benefit from access management federations. Before it was launched we drew up membership criteria that would benefit each and every member.  When we invited healthcare customers to join the federation we had reactions like, “Yes, yes, yes! But… not all our customers are in the healthcare sector, we want them to be able join as well”. Fortunately, the membership criteria are broad enough to enable a wide range of organisations to participate.

Why join an access management federation?

So, what’s in it for your organisation?  In short, access to a wider range of online resources, products and services.  The OpenAthens Healthcare Federation gives service providers an option to make their Shibboleth-protected content available to your OpenAthens users, which simplifies their access options.  These improved integration capabilities also:

  • increase security
  • reduce administrative overheads
  • improve statutory and regulatory compliance, and
  • enable greater personalisation of information for end-users.

What’s in it for service providers?  Well, until now if your organization wanted to subscribe to a particular resource, but a service provider was not offering OpenAthens as an access option, then the service provider had to decide whether there was sufficient justification to implement OpenAthens software.

That may still be a good option for the service provider that doesn’t have Shibboleth, as OpenAthens can give them that capability.  However, if they already have Shibboleth-protected resources, then it’s likely that they are already available through multiple access management federations.  We are now enabling those service providers to simply add the OpenAthens Healthcare Federation [metadata] to their existing Shibboleth federations. This has a much smaller technical impact than a full OpenAthens implementation and so is a much more cost-effective option for them.

So the question is; what is changed from the informal Athens Federation to the OpenAthens Healthcare Federation?

In short – nothing. But beyond that, if your organisation starts subscribing to Shibboleth-protected content, then you may choose to add new links in MyAthens to those products so that your users can see them. These are simple, one-off actions that can be completed with just a few clicks of a mouse and are all documented in our Help section – the OpenAthens Service Desk can also advise you.

There are of course legal obligations to customers joining the OpenAthens Healthcare Federation, but these are unchanged from our existing Terms & Conditions for use of OpenAthens products and services and there are no new legal implications of membership.

Please read the OpenAthens Healthcare Federation wiki space for more information about benefits, eligibility and member responsibilities. If you have any questions or would like to know more about what it means for you, then please do not hesitate to contact Phil Leahy or me directly.

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