Big news was made at HIMSS13 on Monday when, in an unprecedented collaboration, some health IT heavy-hitters joined forces in an effort to push the needle on interoperability.
In announcing the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance, executives from Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway and RelayHealth touted what they say is a first-of-its-kind organization: a collaboration of rival vendors, uniting to enable care integration and data liquidity.
At a press conference Monday morning, McKesson chairman and CEO John Hammergren said the independent, not-for-profit organization represents an "industry-led approach" to one of the thorniest problems in health IT.
Hammergren said it was "one we hope everyone will join with us on."
With an eye toward improving the quality and lowering costs, the CommonWell Health Alliance seeks to ease access to data across systems and settings, in compliance with patient authorization.
"One of the key challenges we face is not just automated healthcare but connected and together care," said Hammergren. "Data liquidity necessary to make it happen."
As the alliance works toward a national infrastructure with common platforms and policies, these technology firms -- and any others who want to join them -- will work toward nationwide interoperability, executives said.
It's time for vendors, even as they continue to compete in the marketplace, to break down their data silos, said Neal Patterson, co-founder, chairman, CEO and president of Cerner. "Our government is not going to deal with this problem," he said.
For his part, athenahealth CEO and Chairman Jonathan Bush said the CommonWell mission is right in line with his own company's raison d'être: "a national health information backbone that allows healthcare to work as it should."
The Mission for CommonWell Health Alliance
As presented on Monday at HIMSS13, CommonWell Health Alliance aims to define and promote the following core services and standards while enabling care integration and data liquidity: Patient Linking and Matching: Provide a way for vendors to identify patients as they move from setting to setting, in a robust and seamless industry-wide data environment. Patient Access and Consent Management: -Foster a HIPAA-compliant, patient-controlled means to simplify the management of consents and authorizations for data sharing. Record Locator Service and Directed Query: Enable providers to match the locations of a patient's previous health care encounters, no matter where the encounter occurred, and gain access to that data in an industry standard way.
Since "you can't build an information backbone that only exists in your corner of the word," he added, a project like this simply makes sense.
"There is a tremendous amount of electronic information," said Greenway president and CEO Tee Green. "But there is very little liquid information."
It's past time, said Bush, to "get the ball rolling" on data exchange across disparate technologies.
Toward that end, the alliance's national infrastructure – which officials say will pilot within the next year – will be built with several core capabilities to drive integration among systems and settings.
These include cross-entity patient linking services to help providers match patients as they transfer across care facilities; access management tools to help with HIPAA-compliant sharing authorizations; and patient record locator and directed query services, which will help providers deliver patient encounter histories and, with authorization, share patient data across episodes of care.
"We're competitors," said Patterson. "We're going to go back home and compete." But, he added, "we're here because of a common value system."
"This is a first step, hopefully, of a mass-adoption of this strategy," said Hammergren.