CommonWell wants to 'open this up'

'Over the course of the past year we've had more than 400 inquiries from people who want to join and participate'
By Mike Miliard
07:30 AM
The CommonWell Health Alliance says it's committed to data liquidity.

In the year and 10 days since it was launched in New Orleans, the vendors of the CommonWell Health Alliance have been setting up the infrastructure for their vision of cross-competitive data liquidity. Now it's time to see what that interoperability can accomplish for the patient.

"In a very short period of time, we've taken some generally very highly-competitive organizations and brought them together around a common issue," said Rich Elmore, vice president for strategic initiatives at Allscripts, speaking at HIMSS14 this past month.

[See also: CommonWell gets rolling on data exchange.]

He was describing the alliance's original six members – McKesson, Cerner, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway and RelayHealth – as well as CPSI and Sunquest, who signed on to the initiative this past July.

"Putting the governance in place, a necessary prerequisite to make this work, was a pretty big deal," he added. Now, with standards set and the first pilot under way, "it's nice to see it operational."

In December, CommonWell began a small-scaled rollout at hospitals and ambulatory practices in Chicago, North Carolina and South Carolina. All of those participants are now able to enroll patients into CommonWell's service, identify whether other provider participants have data for those patients and transmit data on enrolled patients to other providers who have consent to do so.

One of those providers is Maria Parham Medical Center in Henderson, N.C., whose director of IT, Randy Williams, said he was impressed with the early results.

[See also: Two join CommonWell Health Alliance.]

"In the first 24 hours our registration staff enrolled 180 patients," he told Healthcare IT News. By now, that number has well surpassed 1,500, "so that's pretty good. It's been very successful for us, at least on the enrollment side."

Just weeks into the pilot, "it's a little too early to tell," what tangible improvements to patient care might be in the offing, but "we all see the potential benefits there," said Williams. "Everybody understands the vision and the opportunity that's coming, and we're hoping for big things."

In the meantime, CommonWell continues to grow and add new members and clients. Its original participants were EHR and HIE companies. With the addition of Sunquest, a laboratory and diagnostics vendor was on board.

At HIMSS14, CommonWell announced that CVS Caremark would be joining as a contributing member, bringing the country's biggest integrated pharmacy into the fold and enabling a broader view of patients' needs.

"As pharmacies play an increasingly important role in the delivery of health care and pharmacists become more engaged in advising and counseling patients, there will be more opportunities to improve health outcomes through better data sharing across the provider community," said CVS Caremark Chief Medical Officer Troyen A. Brennan, MD, in a press statement.

CVS' participation in CommonWell, specifically it work with McKesson's HIE business, RelayHealth, will help it deliver real-time data to physician practices "to help identify opportunities to coordinate care and help the pharmacist deliver care-based messages back to patients," he said.

Another new member, MEDHOST, which develops technology for patient engagement and departmental workflow, will work toward identifying and linking patients across the community, officials say.

"The missions of CommonWell and MEDHOST are closely aligned, specifically that we both are focused on reducing healthcare costs while improving quality of care," said MEDHOST President Craig Herrod in a statement. "MEDHOST believes in CommonWell and views this initiative as an important strategic step for the healthcare industry as it works to connect communities of care."

"Over the course of the past year we've had more than 400 inquiries from people who want to join and participate," said Elmore. "Our goal is to open this up a lot more. But we're trying to do that systematically, to the point where we can support that broader community."