Two industry organizations working toward greater interoperability of health information have agreed to a formal collaboration.

Carequality is a coalition of stakeholders working on interoperability issues via a consensus-driven process. Carequality is under the umbrella of The Sequoia Project, which operates eHealth Exchange, a national health information network.

CommonWell Health Alliance is a trade association of health information technology companies cooperating to create improved access to health data. The organization represents two-thirds of the acute care electronic health record market and more than a third of the ambulatory EHR market. Together, the organizations cover 90 percent of hospitals and 60 percent of physicians.

Right now, if a provider uses EHR and health information exchange technology from a vendor aligned with CommonWell, the exchange of data can be sent only to other vendor members of CommonWell, and it’s the same way with Carequality. As a result of the new collaboration, providers using CommonWell services will be able to exchange data with providers using Carequality, and vice-versa, says Jitin Asnaani, executive director of CommonWell.

He uses this illustration to describe the impact of the arrangement—it’s similar to other data networks, such as the wireless telecommunication network, which connects people and organizations using any of the systems of individual service providers. Now, both CommonWell and Carequality will have the capability to connect hospitals and clinics to other care providers that are not in the same network.

“We have parallel paths that have now grown together,” says Mariann Yeager, CEO of The Sequoia Project.

Also See: How the Cures law will force interoperability to move forward

CommonWell and Carequality communicated with each other as both went through their formative states, and now both entities are mature, which provides the impetus for the new alignment.

The organizations have been working on the collaboration for the past year, increasingly being prodded by demands from their respective end-user providers for more data-sharing opportunities.

In a series of frequently asked questions, available here, the companies emphasized the importance of their agreement. “CommonWell Health Alliance and Carequality through their members, represent the overwhelming majority of providers across the county who can exchange health information today. Connecting the participants of this arrangement will expand exchange opportunities nationwide, including for Carequality-participating networks that are not vendor-based. While this doesn’t solve interoperability for every provider in the country, it does reduce the complexity of data sharing between providers.”

Pricing of connectivity won’t go through CommonWell and Carequality, but through providers’ vendors, according to information from the companies. “Neither Carequality nor CommonWell can determine pricing charged by vendors/service providers; please contact your CommonWell subscriber or Carequality implementer for specific pricing details.”

The American Medical Association strongly endorsed the new agreement.

“The alignment will greatly increase the nationwide exchange of health data that can be converted into actionable information for physicians as they care for patients,” says AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James Madara, MD.

The connectivity gateway is expected to be live in the first half of 2017.

Providers seeking interoperability beyond what their electronic health record and health information exchange vendors now offer should start talking with their vendors about reaching out to CommonWell and Carequality, advises Dave Cassell, director of Carequality. Both companies stand ready to work with vendors and educate them on interoperability services.

More enhancements could be coming as the companies continue to cooperate, such as physicians receiving notification when patients are in the hospital or receive treatments elsewhere, Asnaani says.

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