CommonWell: Interoperability ‘For the Common Good’

Created to promote “interoperability for the common good,” the CommonWell Health Alliance aims to make health data available to individuals and providers, regardless of where care occurs. In addition, the group wants providers to have access to the data built into the technology for a reasonable cost, for use by a broad range of providers.

The promise of the newly formed nonprofit was detailed during Monday’s general session by Dan Schipfer, vice president and general manager of Cerner, and Patrice Wolfe, senior vice president and general manager of RelayHealth. Schipfer and Wolfe described the challenges providers face in terms of health information exchange (HIE) and the solution proposed by the Alliance.

The aim, Wolfe said, is delivering value to the provider, with better patient matching and access to more data. “This has been a challenging undertaking, but we believe that we cannot do what is important in HIT without collaborating across vendors, providers, and government agencies.”


From Inaction Comes Action

Launched earlier this year, the CommonWell Health Alliance sprang from collaborative work between health IT (HIT) companies and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) on the Direct standard for secure messaging. “It became apparent that cooperation in our industry needed to happen,” Schipfer said. One particular issue was the unique patient identifier which was mandated by HIPAA but was shot down in the late 1990s over privacy issues. During a May 2012 meeting facilitated by the Bipartisan Policy Center in which the participants wrangled with the problem of patient matching, then-ONC Coordinator Farzad Mostashari told the participants, “Industry needs to fix this problem.”

The Alliance is now a nonprofit trade association comprised of seven members of the HIT provider community: Allscripts, athenahealth, Cerner, CPSI, Greenway, McKesson, and Sunquest. Members of the Alliance are HIT vendors who have access to CWA standards; they then design these standards into their own products to make them available to their customers.

Addressing patient matching issues was just one of the issues related to HIE that challenged the industry. “It’s something that we’ve always believed in, but there are real challenges to HIE,” Schipfer said. For instance, healthcare data exists in many silos, and it’s not easy to interoperate across different systems.

In fact, he said, healthcare organizations that want to exchange data must create a contract to do so. “If you want to share information with five organizations, you need 10 contracts,” he said.  Other business deterrents to HIE include cost, complexity, competition, and consent. “Sometimes organizations are not ready or willing to share,” Schipfer said.


Brokering Transfer of Data

Wolfe detailed the services the CommonWell Health Alliance offers, including registration, enrollment and consent validation, patient matching, document query, and document retrieval. The system is designed to work among hospitals, labs, integrated delivery networks, physician offices, and long-term care facilities. “We are not creating a central repository of clinical information; we are brokering transfer of data between providers,” Wolfe said.  Currently the project is in the piloting phase, with expanded deployment expected in the third quarter of 2014.

Among the CommonWell Health Alliance’s goals are adding value to interoperability and help meet the challenges of patient matching, data access, and rising costs. “By bringing vendors together, we’re sharing the same methodology for more consistent and robust results,” Wolfe said. The plan is to improve the HIE process to make it standardized, nationwide, and with one interface. “We consider this the basic plumbing of interoperability—shared across vendors,” she said. Real-time information exchange is the plan.


Tribute Given to Deceased AHIMA President Kathleen Frawley

On Monday, AHIMA presented the family of AHIMA’s late President Kathleen Frawley, who died in June, with two awards—a crystal Apex and a crystal gavel—to honor her service to AHIMA.

Kathleen Frawley’s brother, Father Patrick Frawley, accepted the awards on the family’s

In her general session remarks, former AHIMA President Patty Thierry Sheridan, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA, recalled that “For more than 40 years, Kathleen was passionately committed to advancing the health information management profession. But at the end of the day, she cared most about the patients we serve. Over the years, her various roles included HIM director, legal counsel, vice president of AHIMA’s legislative and public policy services, and educator…just to name a few.”

Sheridan added, “Kathleen believed in her colleagues and students, and she opened doors for so many of us. She would say that we don’t owe her anything. But we do owe Kathleen. We owe her our very best work.”


Follow the news and get insights from AHIMA’s 85th annual Convention and Exhibit being held October 26-30 in Atlanta, GA. For a complete list of event coverage on the Journal of AHIMA website, click here.


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