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Rival Interoperability Groups Connect To Share Health Data

Posted on December 27, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Two formerly competitive health data interoperability groups have agreed to work together to share data with each others’ members. CommonWell Health Alliance, which made waves when it included Cerner but not Epic in its membership, has agreed to share data with Carequality, of which Epic is a part. (Of course, Epic said that it chose not to participate in the former group, but let’s not get off track with inside baseball here!)

Anyway, CommonWell was founded in early 2013 by a group of six health IT vendors (Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth.) Carequality, for its part, launched in January of this year, with Epic, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts on board.

Under the terms of the deal, the two will shake hands and play nicely together. The effort will seemingly be assisted by The Sequoia Project, the nonprofit parent under which Carequality operates.

The Sequoia Project brings plenty of experience to the table, as it operates eHealth Exchange, a national health information network. Its members include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, CVS’s Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts, while CommonWell is largely vendor-focused.

As things stand, CommonWell runs a health data sharing network allowing for cross-vendor nationwide data exchange. Its services include patient ID management, record location and query/retrieve broker services which enable providers to locate multiple records for patient using a single query.

Carequality, for its part, offers a framework which supports interoperability between health data sharing network and service providers. Its members include payer networks, vendor networks, ACOs, personal health record and consumer services.

Going forward, CommonWell will allow its subscribers to share health information through directed queries with any Carequality participant.  Meanwhile, Carequality will create a version of the CommonWell record locator service and make it available to any of its providers.

Once the record-sharing agreement is fully implemented, it should have wide ranging effects. According to The Sequoia Project, CommonWell and Carequality participants cut across more than 90% of the acute EHR market, and nearly 60% of the ambulatory EHR market. Over 15,000 hospitals clinics and other healthcare providers are actively using the Carequality framework or CommonWell network.

But as with any interoperability project, the devil will be in the details. While cross-group cooperation sounds good, my guess is that it will take quite a while for both groups to roll out production versions of their new data sharing technologies.

It’s hard for me to imagine any scenario in which the two won’t engage in some internecine sniping over how to get this done. After all, people have a psychological investment in their chosen interoperability approach – so I’d be astonished if the two teams don’t have, let’s say, heated discussions over how to resolve their technical differences. After all, it’s human factors like these which always seem to slow other worthy efforts.

Still, on the whole I’d say that if it works, this deal is good for health IT. More cooperation is definitely better than less.

Will New Group Steal Thunder From CommonWell Health Alliance?

Posted on January 26, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Back in March 0f 2013, six health IT vendors came together to announce the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance. The group, which included Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth, said they were forming the not-for-profit organization to foster national health data interoperability. (Being a cynical type, I immediately put it in a mental file tagged “The Group Epic Refused To Join,” but maybe that wasn’t fair since it looks like the other EHR vendors might have left Epic out on purpose.)

Looked at from some perspectives, the initiative has been a success. Over the past couple of years or so, CommonWell developed service specifications for interoperability and deployed a national network for health data sharing. The group has also attracted nearly three dozen HIT companies as members, with capabilities extending well beyond EMRs.

And according to recently-appointed executive director Jitin Asnaani, CommonWell is poised to have more than 5,000 provider sites using its services across the U.S. That will include more than 1,200 of Cerner’s provider sites. Also, Greenway Health and McKesson provider sites should be able to share health data with other CommonWell participants.

While all of this sounds promising, it’s not as though we’ve seen a great leap in interoperability for most providers. This is probably why new interoperability-focused initiatives have emerged. Just last week, five major HIT players announced that they would be the first to implement the Carequality Interoperability Framework.

The five vendors include, notably, Epic, along with athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts. While the Carequality team might not be couching things this way, to me it seems likely that it intends to roll on past (if not over) the CommonWell effort.

Carequality is an initiative of The Sequoia Project, a DC-area non-profit. While it shares CommonWell’s general mission in fostering nationwide health information exchange, that’s where its similarities to CommonWell appear to end:

* Unlike CommonWell, which is almost entirely vendor-focused, Sequoia’s members also include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts.

* The Carequality Interoperability Framework includes not only technical specifications for achieving interoperability, but also legal and governance documents helping implementers set up data sharing in legally-appropriate ways between themselves and patients.

* The Framework is designed to allow providers, payers and other health organizations to integrate pre-existing connectivity efforts such as previously-implemented HIEs.

I don’t know whether the Carequality effort is complimentary to CommonWell or an attempt to eclipse it. It’s hard for me to tell whether the presence of a vendor on both membership lists (athenahealth) is an attempt to learn from both sides or a preparation for jumping ship. In other words, I’m not sure whether this is a “game changer,” as one health IT trade pub put it, or just more buzz around interoperability.

But if I were a betting woman, I’d stake hard, cold dollars that Carequality is destined to pick up the torch CommonWell lit. That being said, I do hope the two cooperate or even merge, as I’m sure the very smart people associated with these efforts can learn from each other. If they fight for mindshare, it’d be a major waste of time and talent.