The CommonWell Health Alliance, announced in March and comprising a handful of health information technology vendors collaborating to cooperate on systems interoperability issues, has responded to a federal request for information on ways to advance interoperability and health information exchange.

Alliance members--initially Allscripts, athenahealth, Cerner, Greenway Medical Technologies, and McKesson--will define, promote and certify a national infrastructure with common platforms and policies. They have committed to collaborating with all HIT developers and inviting other vendors and stakeholders to join. The alliance is in active discussions with multiple vendors and stakeholders and hopeful that new companies will start to join within weeks, says Justin Barnes, vice president of industry and government affairs at Greenway.

In a comment letter to federal officials that promotes the new organization as much it dispenses advice, the alliance lays out three services or standards as early core components for a vendor-supported national interoperability infrastructure:

* Providing a way for vendors to match patients with health records as they transition through care facilities,

* Foster a patient-controlled way to simplify management of data sharing consents and authorizations, and

* Help providers link records to access a history of patient care encounters and data across multiple providers and episodes of care.

“The Alliance is currently developing pilot programs to test initial core services and we anticipate the ability to certify such services to vendors within 12-18 months,” according to the comment letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. “As the Alliance advances interoperability, its members will be expected to continue our work with the ONC to ensure our results are coordinated with ONC’s efforts to promote the interoperable use of health I.T.”

In the letter, CommonWell encourages CMS to continue to adopt payment policies designed to reward better care, population health management and lower costs. “As health care providers are asked to bear more of the risk associated with patient care, the need for truly coordinated care has grown. In an industry with multiple standards and hundreds of platforms, no single supplier can solve the problem of interoperability. By collaborating to create an open forum for secure patient data exchange, we can help remove the barriers to data access and move toward competition based on application competencies.”

The alliance further recommends that quality measures be aligned across the meaningful use, Medicare shared savings, Pioneer accountable care organization, bundled payment, and patient-centered medical home programs, “especially when the same elements are measured. This alignment will help health care organizations to focus more on quality delivery and less on quality reporting mechanisms.”

Alliance members also call for consistent privacy rules across states to lift another barrier to interoperability. “Variation in state privacy laws, including federal laws applicable to behavioral health, add greater complexity to the challenges of interoperability. Uniform privacy regulations would encourage providers and organizations to engage more readily in exchange.”

Text of the comment letter is available here.

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