Georgia Healthcare IT Competition Heats Up for the Common Good

You may have read something lately about healthcare’s need for “interoperability,” or, as the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) defines it, “the ability of health information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries in order to advance the effective delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities.” The average healthcare consumer might define it this way: “the ability of my primary care doctor to electronically send lab results and X-rays to the specialist I see two counties over so I don’t have to incur unnecessary expense or waste time undergoing the same procedures again.”

Both definitions are relatively simple and don’t fully encompass the true, technical meaning of the word. Nor do they do justice to the great lengths government and private industry are taking to ensure that healthcare providers are equipped with IT systems that enable interoperability to happen.

Several healthcare IT (HIT) companies – many of them located in Georgia – recently announced (at the annual HIMSS convention, in fact) they will now begin to work even harder to advance this effort. Executives from Allscripts, athenahealth, Cerner, Greenway Medical Technologies, McKesson and RelayHealth have come together to form the alliance as an independent, not-for-profit organization that will “support universal, trusted access to health care data through seamless interoperability,” according to the Alliance’s introductory press release. They also plan to welcome any other HIT companies that want to help advance the alliance’s mission.

“CommonWell’s overriding goal is for secure patient records to be easily sharable among all providers caring for an individual patient – that means hospital, primary physician and specialist caregivers,” explains Justin Barnes, Vice President of Industry and Government Affairs at Greenway Medical in Carrollton. “The ultimate goal is coordinated and streamlined care that is financially sustainable and outcomes driven.

“CommonWell is undertaking this initiative from within the private sector in collaboration with existing national data standards organizations, focusing on patient identification, consent authorization and records locator functions so a given provider can retrieve and see the entire breadth of patient care history during a given visit or in the creation of a care plan. There is no reason that patient records cannot safely pass through different electronic health record systems, and just as easily into a patient’s personal health record or secure messaging portal.”

While some naysayers have decried it as merely marketing hype, I see the alliance as an exciting step for the healthcare industry, and the HIT industry in Georgia in particular. Greenway, McKesson, RelayHealth and athenahealth all have (or in the case of athenahealth, are planning to have) headquarters or operations in Georgia. Call me an idealist and I’ll take it as a compliment, because it’s exciting to think about the innovation that will come from these long-time competitors deciding to work together for the common good in our own backyard.

“This effort is aligned with Greenway’s historical focus on patient data sharing across health IT platforms that we have been successfully achieving in the marketplace, and it’s no surprise that metro Atlanta and Georgia are well represented by this national initiative,” adds Barnes. “The work of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Department of Economic Development has created a welcome environment for technology firms, and the momentum for health IT to grow and collaborate here, already with well over 200 firms.”

It will be interesting to see the milestones the alliance achieves over the next few months, and what other healthcare IT companies are welcomed into the fold. Will the alliance deliver a “golden age of healthcare,” as Cerner President and CEO Neal Patterson alluded to in the press release above? Or will it eventually become a question of too many cooks in the kitchen? I remain idealistically optimistic for now.

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