The missing link

By Bernie Monegain
11:42 AM

Five health systems crafted a connectivity model

WASHINGTON – In what George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, called a historic announcement, Kaiser Permanente, the Geisinger Health System, Intermountain Healthcare, the Group Health Cooperative and the Mayo Clinic connected on April 6, 2011, to create the Care Connectivity Consortium – a model for health data exchange that officials touted as being easily replicated at healthcare systems and community hospitals across the country.

Halvorson, who is credited with pulling his colleagues together to form the consortium, said it represented the next step in the evolution of electronic medical records.

“It is the missing link,” Halvorson said during a news conference held for the announcement at the National Press Club.

“If you replace paper silos with electronic silos, that actually doesn’t represent much progress,” he said.

“You have to have not only electronic data. You have to have electronic data that’s connected.”

“So what we’re trying to do with Care Connectivity Consortium is put together a series of mechanisms, approaches, that will share that data,” Halvorson added. “We’re working together to do that. It’s incredibly important work.”

Jim Walker, chief health information officer at the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, said he was confident the collaboration would be fruitful. Geisinger has been employing health IT as a means to improve patient outcomes and patient satisfaction while lowering costs since 1996, he noted.

He called the Care Connectivity Consortium “a bold step” in making connectivity widespread.

“Part of the interest of the consortium is exactly that – to take what is complex and has not been done yet and then do it, and do it in a way that we learn the most economical and simple way to do it, so that other organizations that would not have the resources to figure it out for themselves can simply use the model that we’ve created and tested and validated,” said Walker.

As John H. Noseworthy, MD, CEO of the Mayo Clinic, sees it, sharing on this scale is the right thing to do.
“There is a moral imperative for groups like ours to share what we know so that others can benefit from that,” he said.

“The work of this consortium is important because the groups here will demonstrate that connecting clinical information and informing these decisions is feasible,” said Scott Armstrong, president and CEO of the Group Health Cooperative in Washington. “It can be done.”

The timetable for getting it done is aggressive. The leaders said they expected to be exchanging data within a year – the sooner the better, to make the model available to others.

“We want to make sure that this is available as aggressively as possible,” said Noseworthy. “This isn’t about making money. It’s an investment for the country so the timelines are aggressive.”

Charles Sorenson, MD, COO at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, restated the objective.

“It’s our goal that by beginning this, we’ll be able to chart a path for other organizations around the country to share patient information – with the patient’s permission – when that patient receives care in other locations.”

“As a clinician, I can’t tell you how important it is to have the right information in a timely way when the patient is there to receive care,” Sorenson added.

This type of collaboration carries a message, said Jack Cochran, MD, executive director of the Permanente Federation, the physician arm of Kaiser Permanente.

“The creation of a consortium like this is a very significant step to model for the country – that organizations cannot only take care of their own business and be good at what they do, but to say we understand what the patients’ needs are,” Cochran said. “We’re going to be connected more broadly, more nationally.”