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CloudView blog

Ideas and insights to help health care providers stay informed and profitable in today's challenging health care environment.

As CommonWell and Carequality Join Forces, The Real Work to Connect Healthcare Begins

by John Voith, Director of Transaction Services

The CommonWell Health Alliance and Carequality today announced that they are working together in new ways to advance patient record sharing. If you’re wondering what this commitment to “increase health IT connectivity” and provide “additional health data sharing options” means for patients and providers around the country, here’s a high-level view:

The majority of healthcare providers will now have more opportunity to electronically request and retrieve patient medical records from one another with this agreement. This is big news for the thousands of care organizations active on the CommonWell network and Carequality framework and, greater yet, for the millions of patients whose medical records are housed in their platforms. CommonWell and Carequality’s agreement expands the number of interconnected patient record sharing networks across the country, reducing the complexity of data sharing for an overwhelming majority of providers across the country who make up their membership.

The intentions of the agreement are good, and right-headed: Patients are finally demanding that their health information follow them, and in most instances, that means across disparate care settings, multiple providers, and several EHRs. The members of CommonWell and Carequality have agreed that this is the right approach.

This is an encouraging signal that the private sector continues to lead through “bottom up” progress against interoperability goals, and it is doing so better and faster than federal mandates. Without question, more work remains—and that will always be the case—but this is a meaningful statement from an industry that has long claimed a commitment to interoperation, but has not always had much to show in terms of delivery.

athenahealth has always been committed to universal interoperation and to achieving the type of information exchange ubiquitous elsewhere in the consumer economy. It’s the principle on which our health information backbone was built. Our network assumes and encourages an interconnected healthcare system. We were recently recognized as an industry leader for the 2nd year in a row in KLAS’ interoperability report for sharing information with other EMRs via our patient record sharing service. We are a founding member of CommonWell and an initial implementer of Carequality and today, as a result of our work with these organizations, we have the ability to connect to hundreds of Cerner sites and approximately half of the Epic communities. Now, with common technical specifications and governance processes, the rate at which CommonWell and Carequality members can build and scale connections to each other should quicken. But access alone will not solve the challenges of interoperability.

CommonWell and Carequality’s agreement brings together otherwise competing market players, which is necessary for data sharing, but not sufficient for creating a fully-connected, integrated healthcare workflow. True interoperability is not just a matter of moving bits across the wire and deluging providers with every care note and encounter. Once outside records are brought into the EMR, they need to be organized and presented usefully, in ways that can meaningfully impact care. As KLAS notes in its recent interoperability report, "Interoperability is more than just access to outside patient records. For interoperability to move the needle on better care, outside records must be (1) available, (2) easy to locate, (3) within the clinician workflow, and (4) delivered in an effective way that facilitates improvement in patient care.” For this reason, athenahealth continues to focus on presenting the right data at the right time to move beyond data access, driving both clinical utility and performance - not just crowding clinical inboxes and causing net new work. As new outside data flows in, we’ve been focused on new ways to auto-label it, auto-file duplicates, and present the data in context wherever possible. And we recognize that there is a lot more work to do in this domain.

To make good on their promise to achieve a truly connected health care system, CommonWell and Carequality’s efforts must evolve beyond enabling access to information—important, but ultimately short-term, goals—to improving the utility of that information in a manner that drives clinical performance. It’s not enough to ensure that data is flowing; it must also be organized in a way that parses signals from noise, streamlines and reduces work, and influences clinical outcomes. Though most vendors are rhetorically committed to interoperability, actions will speak more loudly than words. The commitment of all vendors should be judged not only by how rigorously they take up CommonWell and Carequality’s expressed mission to work together, but also by their efforts to make the records being exchanged more usable in the moments of care.

At the end of the day, the industry should care more about arriving at a fully interoperating health IT ecosystem that works for patients and providers than the manner in which it’s accomplished. Adopting common standards and interconnecting networks should be an impetus to progress, not a substitute for it. So on this great occasion, let’s not spend too much time congratulating ourselves. Instead, let’s roll up our sleeves and get back to work. Patients and providers are depending on it.

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