With the recent announcements of three collaborative initiatives, we may see MU plant some meaningful roots that could both advance interoperability and empower patients as they deserve.
Despite years of effort, and millions of dollars, Meaningful Use still isn’t so meaningful. And the recently proposed delay in MU Stage 2 requirements is just further proof.
One of the major reasons for this failure is the inability to corner the elusive creature of effective interoperability—and the reality of competition with its associated refusal to collaborate has been a persistent culprit lurking in the shadows.
However, things may be about to change on this proprietary landscape in a big way. With the recent announcements of three collaborative initiatives, we may see MU plant some meaningful roots that could both advance interoperability and empower patients as they deserve.
CommonWell Health Alliance
On the EHR front, perhaps one of the most exciting things to happen to date is the recently formed CommonWell Health Alliance, a vendor-led interoperability collaboration between several major Health IT players that could have global implications.
This unprecedented spirit of sharing is some of the best news yet for everyone involved in the interoperability effort, but most essentially, it’s great news for the one at the center—the patient—where the focus of attention should reside. From the website:
“CommonWell Health Alliance is a not-for-profit trade association of health IT companies working together to create universal access to health care data. The Alliance is open to all health information technology providers who are committed to making a patient’s data available to themselves and providers regardless of where care occurs. Alliance members support the belief that provider access to this data must be built into health information technologies at a reasonable cost for use by a broad range of health care providers and the populations and people they serve.”
CommonWell has already provided interoperability implementation and functionality, with launches in four U.S. cities. According to the CEO of one of these providers, AnnMargaret McCraw of Midlands Orthopaedics,
“As soon as care involves providers in other settings, a truly integrated treatment record is difficult to access, let alone maintain. Despite tremendous advances in electronic health records, communication among diverse systems is poor. We’ve signed up for CommonWell because we believe that achieving true interoperability among EHRs is fundamental to improving healthcare.”
With founding members that include Allscripts, athenahealth, Cerner, CPSI, Greenway, McKesson, and Sunquest—and CVS Caremark and Medhost as contributing members—surely a great deal of effective interoperability can be achieved in the near future.
Personal Connected Health Alliance
On the world stage, an exciting initiative for patient empowerment and expanding interoperability to mobile health and wearables was recently launched.
“improve health and wellness through connected technologies...to enable individuals to better manage their health and wellness, anytime and anywhere…PCHA will build upon the global reach, leadership and resources of its founding organizations, to ensure that personal connected health technologies, such as smartphones, mobile apps, sensors and personal health tracking devices, are user-friendly, secure and can easily collect, display and relay personal health data. The Alliance’s work will generate greater awareness, availability and access to plug-and-play consumer-friendly personal health technologies that empower people to better manage their health and wellness, anytime and anywhere, in an increasingly connected world.”
As Jeremy Bonfini, Executive Vice President, PCHA noted,
“As healthcare delivery evolves and brings care beyond hospital walls to where we live, work, learn and play, individuals are being called upon to engage more intimately with their own health and wellness. The Personal Connected Health Alliance aims to facilitate the development and widespread availability of user-friendly personal health devices, mobile apps, sensors and other connected health technologies, putting consumers in the drivers’ seat when it comes to their own health.”
One of the members, Continua Health Alliance, is made up of over 200 international vendor members. According to Clint McClellan, Board President Chair,
“The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialty agency for information and communications technologies, recently ratified the Continua family of standards as the defacto global connected health standard for plug-and-play interoperability to create an easily accessible, user-friendly and secure network of personal connected health devices and systems. We are currently working with governments around the world, including Denmark, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and the UK, that are developing implementation plans for groundbreaking national connected health initiatives for their citizens based on Continua’s Design Guidelines.”
As the press release notes, the PCHA will:
“unite the continuum of care across the healthcare ecosystem, and bring together a unique combination of domestic and global expertise, along with resources focused on personalized health solutions that meet individuals’ lifestyle needs. Each participating organization—Continua Health Alliance, mHealth Summit and HIMSS—will bring a unique perspective to the Alliance, providing a holistic view and approach to promoting the advancement of healthcare technologies that focus on consumers.”
Blue Button Movement
An exciting initiative for empowering patients is the new Blue Button Movement, a public-private partnership between the healthcare industry and the U.S. government.
Still in its early stages, this movement will enable consumers who are patients or clients of participating members to electronically download their personal health records to use as a reference, to verify accuracy, to share with healthcare providers, and to support apps to better manage their own care.
“The Blue Button Connector is the first ever, open data source delivered through an open API that makes transparent the health data that is increasingly available to the public, which we believe will help to fuel the creation of new products and services.”
This program has the potential to build into a well-rounded information exchange system which could empower patients to a greater degree, though bi-directional functionality is not yet available.
Recently, leading pharmacies and retailers announced that they were joining this initiative, including Walgreens, Kroger, CVS Caremark, Rite Aid, and Safeway. In addition, several national pharmacy associations have also joined, with a commitment to promoting the adoption and use of Blue Button among those pharmacies they represent, including the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the Pharmacy Health IT Collaborative and the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations.
Inherent to the continued growth and expanded interoperability potential of the Blue Button movement is the use of
“secure, simple and standard formats to help spur the development of innovative consumer applications and devices that can help patients better manage their own health and facilitate the electronic sharing of data with trusted partners, such as medical specialists who might not otherwise have direct access to relevant records.”
In this context, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in collaboration with more than 70 organizations, has recently released “Blue Button+”—a set of technical guidelines to help providers structure their data in “standardized, machine-readable formats.” The Blue Button+ standards will hopefully support the ability to meet the Federal EHR Incentive Program requirements as well.
Collaboration is the name of the game when it comes to effective interoperability that truly makes a difference.
If sharing efforts such as these are instilled with a determination to roll up the collective sleeves, put competition on the back burner, and dig into solutions that really play well together—amazing progress could occur. And maybe, just maybe, such collaborations can be a model for others, leading down a path that actually makes Meaningful Use meaningful and provides the tools that patients need to own the power that they deserve.