CommonWell Opens Up Interoperability, or Does It?

If you love drama, there may be no better time than now to be in health IT. Specifically, the CommonWell Health Alliance movement – spearheaded by vendor giants Allscripts, Athenahealth, Cerner, Greenway and McKesson — to promote health information exchange.

However, as we all know, the one giant in the room not to be invited to the dance, Epic, is crying foul.

CommonWell is billed as a nonprofit consortium as a “vehicle to create a shared, centralized standards-based platform for patient and provider identification and authorization, and information exchange,” according to Modern Healthcare.

As one might expect, so far, the effort is little more than PR (as I said recently). It’s yet to be determined that this meeting of the minds will produce anything market ready or will be welcomed by those it was designed to serve.

“The concept is to create a national record locator service that won’t hold patient records, but will contain information about where those records are located. That way, when a provider using a CommonWell member’s EHR wants to obtain copies of those records from another provider of one of his or her patients, that provider will be able to send a query to the record locator, and then directly to that provider for copies,” according to the magazine.

Additionally, the plan also won’t create a national patient identifier. Patient identifiers, such as cellphone numbers, insurance numbers and e-mail addresses, will be used to match patients with their appropriate records.

Finally, CommonWell is being built on an actual business model – or so the leaders of the initiative say — which has been a problem health information exchanges. According to Modern Healthcare, EHR vendors are going to pay for the CommonWell HIE. Vendors will have to pay an annual subscription fee to use the service.

From a pedestrian point of view, this simply makes sense. So where’s the rub?

Seemingly, the leader of several successful businesses decided to get together to create a plan, based on a business model that has brought each of the participating vendors a great deal of success, and are developing a plan for bringing that concept to market.

Rather than wait for the government to bring the idea of HIEs to fruition, a few ladies and gentlemen with a tremendous amount of business savvy decided it was time to capitalize on the market. They decided it was time to fill a need and in the process deliver a service. We’ll see if that comes about, but this point is true and can’t be argued.

On the opposite of the table, quite literally, there are others who believe the effort is a ruse to control data and instead of freeing the system, will create more silos.

Given the fact that the market is nothing but silos now, I’m not sure one more is going to make a difference even if CommonWell does lock down the data.

In fact, according to Modern Healthcare, the goal of CommonWell is to improve data liquidity and to respond to customer demand for interoperability for accountable care organizations.

Interoperability. That’s what this game (health IT) seems to be all about. Or, am I wrong?

Judy Faulkner, founder and CEO of Epic, may think so.

She continues to wonder, with some scorn, if CommonWell is a competitive business? Is it a service? “Will it be favoring those who started it and using those who did not start it as the means to feed the business? What components of business will be in it? Will it sell the data? Will there be patents? Those are the sum of the questions I asked myself,” she said.

At the same time, ONC head Dr. Farzad Mostashari seems to have his doubts. But, wouldn’t you too, if a new business set up shop, one likely governed by less regulation, and has plans to compete with your organization? You might wonder if you’re going to in a tight spot shortly, too.

2 comments on “CommonWell Opens Up Interoperability, or Does It?”

Call me a cynic, but I don’t think we’ll see much real benefit in healthcare from CommonWell. This was a direct action against Epic. Sure, they’ve spun it pretty well as something larger, but they wouldn’t be involved if there wasn’t some major business motive behind it. I expect we’ll see very few additions to CommonWell which is a big problem in this heterogeneous IT environment.

I do hold out hope that CommonWell can make some progress on the identity issues surrounding healthcare data interoperability. Even if that’s the only thing that comes out of CommonWell, I’d be happy with that as a result. It’s one of the major problems. They see that and are working to solve it. I hope they do.

I couldn’t agree with you more, John. I don’t think much will come from CommonWell except unmet expectations and a lot of PR in the hopes that something will come of the initiative. In the long run, I, too, think it’s just another action to capture interest and market share. But I’m also quite the cynic, so I could be wrong.

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