Big EMR Vendors Agree To Interoperability Scheme

John’s Comment: See my coverage of the CommonWell announcement on EMR and HIPAA.

Could it be that real interoperability between vendors is on the way? Five big EMR vendors — including three hospital-oriented giants and two doctor-focused players — have come together during HIMSS to announce plans to create common standards for health data sharing, reports Forbes.

Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth and Greenway Medical Technologies have joined to create a new non-profit called the CommonWell Health Alliance. (As most wags have noted, Epic is conspicuously absent from the mix.)

The partners haven’t disclosed a lot of detail as to how they plan to achieve interoperability amongst themselves, but the scheme seems to rely on creating a unique national ID. “Without a national ID and the ability to create true data that can be safely and securely sent between individuals, we are going to introduce new systemic risk back into the system,” Neal Patterson, founder, chairman and chief executive of Cerner told Forbes.

Patterson, public citizen that he is, said that the CommonWell Alliance isn’t a commercial effort but “an obligation.”  That certainly sounds lovely, but with five hyper-competitive public companies forming up this effort, I’m skeptical to say the least. Besides, if it’s an obligation, why isn’t Epic so obligated?

John Halamka, Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, has probably sniffed out more of partners’ true motivation. “They’re thinking of it as an enabler for new technologies,” Halamka suggests to Forbes, a move which can “raise the tide for all boats.”

Whether it raises any boats or not, creating interoperability links between these vendors certainly can’t hurt. After all, the more data sharing the better, particularly by major players with significant market share.

That being said, there’s still the matter of Epic being out of the picture, not to mention other major EMR players. How much of a practical difference the CommonWell Health Alliance can make is very much in question.