Five innovative healthcare systems to share patient data nationwide

By Mary Mosquera
11:45 AM

A collective of large providers that have been early adopters of electronic health records (EHRs) has established a joint effort to securely share electronic health information among their systems starting next year. Combined, the healthcare organizations treat patients from all 50 states.

The Care Connectivity Consortium will deploy health IT tools over the next year to electronically share data about their patients, who will be able to choose whether they want their information be shared among the organizations.

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The providers will use electronic tools that are consistent with national health IT standards to foster interoperability among the group’s systems, according to an announcement April 6.

But the group is taking a somewhat different approach than the development of state health information exchanges being funded by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT to support the meaningful use of EHRs, according to one of the participants.

The collaborating providers include Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania; Kaiser Permanente, headquartered in California; Mayo Clinic of Minnesota; Intermountain Healthcare of Utah; and Group Health Cooperative, based in Washington.

“This collaborative effort exists because we all have reached the same important conclusion about linking and sharing patient-specific data, and our belief is that when doctors have real-time data about patients, care is better and more effective,” said George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente.

The exchange of health information to coordinate and improve patient care is a cornerstone of the meaningful use of certified EHRs, which qualifies physicians and hospitals for incentives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

[EHRWatch's Patty Enrado explains why it's time for associations, vendors to partner.]

ONC has set out early standards for health information exchange, but they are voluntary, said Dr. Dawn Milliner, chief medical information officer at Mayo Clinic. ONC also has grants for states to develop statewide networks and roll up regional networks.

Every state has their own rules and regulations, however, with different criteria for patient consent and authentication.

“Each group is using their own approach to the type of data that they will share, making it very complicated for any healthcare organization that cares for patients from more than one state,” Milliner said in an online presentation.

With the Care Connectivity Consortium, if a patient from one system gets sick away from home and seeks care in another system, or if a system sends patients to another, clinicians at each of the members will be able to access information about the patient’s medications, allergies and health conditions in order to make the best decision about treatment.

Each of the health systems in the group have proved the value of EHRs for their own patients and care settings, such as patients with chronic conditions of heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

“It’s now time to extend that between our healthcare organizations across the country,” Milliner said.

The members will work independently at first but in a very coordinated way, using national standards for health information exchange that ONC has established and the nationwide health information network. The NHIN is a set of standards and services that enable providers to share patient information securely over the Internet.