The CommonWell Health Alliance, a consortium of health information technology vendors working to solve the challenges of interoperability, is open to all companies committed to interoperable systems, according to McKesson, a founding member of CommonWell.

Responding to charges that CommonWell is “an exclusive” group, McKesson Vice President of Federal Affairs Joe Ganley denied that the health IT alliance is excluding certain electronic health records vendors such as Epic Systems.

“You see competitors coming together in alliances and working together because they understand that’s the business model of the future that is going to be stable in the long term and is in the best interests of patients,” said Ganley in an April 8 webinar on interoperability. But, “obviously, not everybody is a member of CommonWell,” he added.

Arien Malec, vice president of data platform solutions for McKesson’s RelayHealth, said that structurally CommonWell is a not-for-profit trade association “which means that legally we cannot exclude anybody and in point of fact there is not a single major health IT provider who hasn’t been invited—both formally and informally—to join.”

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However, during a Senate committee hearing last month, Peter DeVault, director of interoperability for EHR vendor Epic Systems, testified that when CommonWell approached his company to become members of the alliance they were told it would cost millions of dollars to join and that they would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“To us, the only reasons to have an NDA are if they’re going to tell you something that otherwise they wouldn’t want people to know. For example, the possibility that they might sell data downstream or that they want to make sure that their intellectual property doesn’t conflict with ours,” said DeVault. “That kind of lack of transparency did not sit right with us.”

In Wednesday’s webinar, Malec said that early in its founding CommonWell did require NDAs but that it does not currently require them.  He also denied “rumors” that CommonWell plans on selling data from its network. “We advocated for the notion of a centralized record locator service to enable interoperability and we knew going in that we had to be a trusted partner,” Malec asserted. “Part of being a trusted partner was knowing that we were going to use data only for the purposes that we had been explicitly delegated to do.”

CommonWell was launched two years ago at the HIMSS conference, starting with five founding members. Currently, Malec boasted that CommonWell’s membership includes 25 health IT vendors. “We’re making tremendous progress in terms of bringing those competitors together to drive the network,” he said. “We clearly would love everybody to join.”

According to Malec, CommonWell’s membership now represents 70 percent of the acute care EHR market and about 25 percent of the ambulatory care EHR market. Earlier this month, the organization announced five new members—Meditech, Merge and Kareo joined as contributing members, while PointClickCare and Surgical Information Systems joined as general members.

“CommonWell is what I would call an aspiring network,” DeVault testified March 17 before a Senate committee. “They aspire to be a nationwide network with a record locator service that will tell you where every part of a patient’s record is. They are not that today.”

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