In four short years, Commonwell Health Alliance has blossomed from a handful of founding members to more than 60. Announced at HIMSS 2013, the organization of EHR vendors was created to solve the data silo problem that was first made a national priority by President George W. Bush in 2004. With that announcement, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT was created and the Secretary of Health and Human Services was instructed to cooperate in building a national health information exchange by 2014.
When only a handful of siloed Health Information Exchanges had been built by 2012, and it was becoming apparent the government was going to miss its 10-year deadline, the industry stepped in. Seven founding members, including McKesson, Allscripts and Cerner and a few physician practice EHR vendors such as Greenway and Athena Health cobbled together a competition-free alliance and built a data exchange network.
Interoperability specialist Nick Knowlton was at that first meeting, representing Greenway. He has since moved over to Brightree, a ResMed Company, where he continues efforts to promote interoperability through Commonwell. The first thing he did was to make Brightree the first post-acute member. We spoke with him at last month's Home Care Association of Colorado meeting, where he was a featured speaker.
"When it became obvious the 2014 deadline was going to be missed, the head of the Office of the National Coordinator called a meeting," Knowlton remembers. "I was there with Greenway; Cerner was present and McKesson sent its Relay Health people, their subsidiary that has clinical connectivity software. They told National Coordinator for ONC, Dr. Farzad Mostashari, MD, ScM, that they had to have a national patient ID number. With that, they would have the hook they needed to exchange patient data among disparate EHR systems. Mostashari made it very clear to us that politics would never let that happen. 'Do it yourself,' he told us, 'or I will. And you won’t like my solution.'”
Knowlton added that those early vendors realized they had to leave their corporate badges at the door in order to get it done. "They decided the solution that would best promote adoption was to build connectivity into each EHR, not force users to log onto a separate system," Knowlton said. "The system we came up with uses Relay Health as its connectivity engine; it is working well and most likely the main reason we are over 60 members today."
When Brightree became a member, Knowlton suggested adding features to the service that would bring into the shared data mix items needed by post-acute providers, such as medication lists, previous diagnoses, and the like. Functions have also been added that enable patients to gather their own health data.
Regarding expanding Commonwell membership, Knowlton says he is torn between two positives. "We are perfectly happy to get the advantages of being the only home health and hospice vendor in the Alliance," he grins, "but I also understand that it would be best for patients if every vendor joined."
From the Commonwell Health Alliance web site:
We are proud to be a vendor-led organization that embeds interoperability services into health care technology to enable seamless, trusted, nationwide access to health care information for providers and the people they serve.
CommonWell core services aim to enable health care providers to manage patient identity, link patients across organizations, and facilitate secure data access and exchange beyond one’s own system or community.
Our core services are essential to the exchange of health data along the care continuum. Members are committed to ensuring provider access to the data is built into their technology. These CommonWell services include:
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