Healtheway convenes Carequality to take HIE to the next level

Kicking exchange to new heights
By Tom Sullivan
02:27 PM

What will it take to ratchet health information exchange up to the next level?

The answer that anyone paying attention would fire back: interoperability.

Which is not to suggest it will be easy.

“We’ve seen substantial progress in enabling HIE and connecting networks,” said Mariann Yeager, executive director for Healtheway. “But it’s time to have an interoperability framework that will allow exchange to occur in a way inclusive to all industry stakeholders.”

A cadre of those stakeholders, in fact, approached Healtheway asking it to be the conveyer of such a framework.

Thus was born Carequality; pronounced Care Equality. Yeager described Carequality, which Healtheway introduced Monday at HIMSS14, as “an industry-driven collaborative focusing on interoperability needs that will allow current and new networks to interconnect, not unlike what other industries have done to reach that next level of interoperability.”

A prime example is the way banks came together to support ATM networks. After that fashion, Carequality intends to agree on rules of engagement for technology specifications to drive interoperability and policy requirements to make current connectivity ubiquitous, even reaching into places it does not today, such as post-acute and rural settings — like Alaska.

The Alaska eHealth Network is a Carequality member.

“Two big areas to address are the development of a national provider directory and a consumer-centric focus for delivery,” said Rebecca Madison, AeHC executive director. “Consumers have access to their credit history and are able to view their bank records online. Shouldn't they have the same level of access to their health data? Who better than the patient knows the accuracy of the data?”

Calling Carequality a step in the right direction, Madison explained that as EHRs proliferate across Alaska providers are gaining insights about how access to data can benefit doctors and patients alike.

“We have more demand from providers than we can keep up with,” Madison said. “Most patients we speak with are ecstatic to think they may soon have access to their own health data.”

Alaska’s situation is just one example of why the U.S. healthcare system needs a framework to take interoperability to the next level.

Last year at HIMSS13 in New Orleans, the Commonwell Health Alliance made a big interoperability splash revealing itself as a coalition of six vendors coming together to advance interoperability between their EHRs.

Whereas Commonwell members are all EHR vendors, Carequality is “a more neutral convener,” allowing HIEs, providers, and vendors to participate, said Justin Barnes, vice president of government affairs at Greenway which is a member of both Carequality and Commonwell.

"We want a private solution to interoperability," Barnes said, adding that Commonwell and Carequality are more complementary than competitive. "The federal government is asking for it, but we are demanding it. We want to get out in front of it."

Indeed, Healtheway is the public-private collaboration that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the Federal Health Architecture spun out of Nationwide Health Information Network Exchange work — which Yeager points to as evidence that the industry reached a critical juncture at which HIE had enough traction to realize the need for its extending its reach nationally.

“As an industry, we're ready now. The time is right. We really have to come together,” Yeager said. “It was an honor to be asked to do this because we believe it’s an unprecedented opportunity to bring our industry together in a way that we haven’t maybe done to date.”

As of press time, at least 26 had joined Carequality, including: California Association of Health Information Exchanges, eClinicalWorks, Epic, Greenway, ICA, Kaiser Permanente, lifeIMAGE, MDI Achieve, Medfusion, Medicity, MedVirginia, Mirth, Netsmart, New York eHealth Collaborative, Optum HIE, Orion Health, Santa Cruz Health Information Exchange, Surescripts and Walgreens.

And Healtheway rattled off a list of other interested parties some of which may have joined after this article was published.

Government Health IT senior editor Diana Manos contributed to this report.