By Waco Hoover

First Posted at Institute for Health Technology Transformation on 4/8/2013

Waco Hoover, CEO, The Institute for Health Technology Transformation
Waco Hoover, CEO, The Institute for Health Technology Transformation

The Health IT Policy Committee recently analyzed the CommonWell Health Alliance, a newly formed vendor-led coalition to promote interoperability. The Alliance comprised of AllscriptsathenahealthCerner,GreenwayMcKesson and RelayHealth aims to exchange data more effectively. The announcement carries significant weight because interoperability, among other areas, is one of the biggest obstacles for the U.S. healthcare system to realize the full value and benefits of electronic health records and digital patient data. Six of the nation’s largest health IT providers working together to foster interoperability in the private sector will carry significant weight in this effort.

recent article outlined the co-chair of the policy committee’s perspective on how the Alliance will attempt to solve the nationwide data exchange challenges in the following manner:

  • Will the CommonWell Health Alliance Succeed at Solving Nationwide Data Exchange?Enabling providers to unambiguously identify patients – but not with a national patient identifier;
  • Providing a way to match patients with their healthcare records as they transition through care facilities;
  • Using existing unique identifiers (salted/hashed) such as cell phone number, email addresses or driver’s licenses for identity management;
  • Enabling patients to manage consent and authorization;
  • Creating a HIPAA-compliant and patient-centered means to simplify management of data-sharing consents and authorizations, focusing initially on the most common treatment situations;
  • Helping providers to find the location of patient records across care locations via a secure nationwide records locator service;
  • Enabling providers, with appropriate authorization, to issue targeted (directed) queries that provide for peer-to-peer (e.g., EHR to EHR) exchange.

The list includes potential ways to accurately and securely match patients to their records. Using existing unique identifiers such as the cell phone, email address or other forms of identification is one method laid out. This is an important point due to the amount of controversy surrounding a national patient identification number. If the Alliance can develop a methodology that enables vendors and providers to effectively exchange data without a national patient identifier it would represent a significant milestone to seamlessly exchange data.

With a focus on unique identifiers the industry may place more emphasis on ways to create innovative solutions matching patients to their medical records. One personal health records company already focused on this area has patented technology relating to unique identifiers. MMRGlobal (OTCQB: MMRF) has been issued patents related to unique identifiers such as phone number, email address, and others. Will other organizations follow suit in developing innovative solutions around this area?

On March 25th the White House had a petition posted to its “We The People” section of the website to “Ask Congress to no longer prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from establishing standards for a unique patient identifier.” HIMSS identified cost savings and safety benefits associated with a unique patient identifier so perhaps the industry can have its cake and eat it too with innovative approaches to patient identifiers. At this point it appears we are a ways off from changing policy on a national patient identifier but more innovation in the area of data exchange and interoperability will only help the U.S. get more value out of the billions of dollars in tax payer money invested to foster the use of electronic health records.

Interested in learning more about health information exchange? Join Micky Tripathy, President & CEO, Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, Lawrence General Hospital, Partners Healthcare and Chilmark Research as they discuss the very same topic on their, “Why Data is Key to Meaningful Use, Accountable Care and Health Care Reform” panel taking place at the iHT2 Health IT Summit in Boston, May 7-8.

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.


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