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Three Takeaways on Future Efforts for Interoperability

On Oct. 5. the CommonWell Health Alliance convened its Fall Summit and Annual Meeting outside of Boston. The event brought together members from across the health IT vendor industry, some seasoned to these meetings and many new to the CommonWell experience, which includes me.

Over the two-day event, we talked about and explored the CommonWell brand, their services, upcoming use cases and plans for the future.  For simplicity purposes, I want to share three main takeaways that not only apply to the summit, but also, to interoperability efforts across the health IT sector.

1.The number of stakeholders investing in interoperability efforts is quickly expanding beyond EHR vendors.
When CommonWell formed in 2013, six of its seven founding members were EHR vendors. Today, the membership has expanded to 58 organizations, and spans across many healthcare sectors, such as imaging, post-acute care, telehealth, and patient portals that make up the rest of the care continuum beyond the EHR and acute and ambulatory care settings.  
This growth in not only numbers, but also the diversity in CommonWell’s membership is a strong indicator and nicely parallels the growing work toward achieving semantic interoperability. Most efforts to-date have focused on getting hospitals and ambulatory providers live with EHRs and communicating with health IT.

Today, the majority of hospitals are online and using EHR systems (see recent report from the ONC) with a need to incorporate other areas of healthcare into these efforts. Though we still have a long way to go for interoperability with hospitals and ambulatory providers, it is also critical to bring others across the care continuum along on the journey to secure data exchange. CommonWell's membership roster is a great indication that we are moving in a positive direction.

2.Defining value is a critical part of moving the needle toward greater interoperability.

Now that CommonWell has begun the rollout of services with its members and linking patients across disparate systems, it is looking to demonstrate the value of such interoperability. Work on collecting value statements that include quantitative, qualitative and anecdotal information is a goal for the Alliance for the coming year.

CommonWell isn't alone in understanding the need to demonstrate value behind interoperability. As our sector works to align standards and change culture around sharing health information, there have been repeated demands to explain the "so what" of all these efforts. Figuring out the "how" of demonstrating lower costs, improved quality and greater satisfaction is one of the bigger challenges in communicating the value of sharing health information.

3.We need to bring the provider and the patient to the table to move interoperability forward.

While standards alignment and cooperation across health IT vendors are critical steps toward widespread interoperability, a cultural change in how providers and patients perceive the value of sharing information should also take place. CommonWell is working to bring both voices to the table, and announced the use of a physician-based advisory group to provide feedback on the usability of the tools and efforts to expand their patient engagement.

Before HIMSS, I worked at a community, or regional, HIE organization on engagement with ambulatory providers, an experience that underscored how crucial communication between providers and vendors can be. So many providers were frustrated with their EHR experiences and reluctant to move forward on another IT investment when they already were unhappy with their current ones. Feedback from the front lines on how to improve and refine is necessary for interoperability’s continued growth and ultimate success. It is refreshing to see these thoughts being put into action at CommonWell and by others in the healthcare community.

For a CommonWell rookie like me, the efforts outlined are exciting representations of the progress the health IT community is advancing. With so many diverse stakeholders, from start-ups to health IT giants, putting aside their personal motives and working together toward “interoperability for the common good,” I think that we have a lot to look forward to, as we improve and grow our connected health system. 

Learn more about interoperability and its future at HIMSS17

Keywords: 
HIMSS; health IT; interoperability