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4/6/2011
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Five Leading Healthcare Organizations To Exchange Patient Data

Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, Geisinger Health System, Intermountain Health, and Group Health Collaborative form new consortium to share patient e-health records on-demand and serve as a national model for data interoperability.

Five of the nation's leading healthcare organizations and pioneering users of e-health records have banded together to create a new consortium to securely exchange their patients' real-time, digitized medical information on demand, and to serve as a national model for low-cost, data interoperability among clinicians.

The new collaborative--called Care Connectivity Consortium--was announced today at a press conference in Wash. D.C. by its five members, Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, Geisinger Health System, Intermountain Health, and Group Health Collaborative. In all, the five organizations care for tens of millions patients across the U.S.

"Paper is a horrible way to share information," said George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente. However, as the nation's healthcare providers move forward with the adoption of e-medical record systems, "electronic silos replacing paper silos isn't progress," he said. "You need connectivity."

It's the goal of the consortium to tap its collective experience in data sharing and use national health IT and interoperability standards to create a replicable an affordable model for timely, secure, on-demand, exchange of patient data--with the permission of the patient-- that can be replicated by others. In "the next step of evolution in EMRs, this is the missing link," said James Walker, chief health information officer at Geisinger, an integrated health delivery network and health plan that serves about 2.6 million patients in central and northeastern Pennsylvania.

While the effort could provide a strong model for sharing patient data among healthcare providers across the U.S., KP CIO Phil Fasano said he would not label the consortium as a health information exchange organization.

While technology details for CCC's data sharing effort are still being worked out, the real-time, on-demand exchange of patient data among the consortium members could be accomplished similarly to KP's ongoing patient data sharing project with the VA, said Fasano in an interview with InformationWeek.

In that pilot launched last year, KP and the VA are using National Health Information Network standards to allow KP and VA clinicians to securely exchange patient data between KP HealthConnect e-health record system and the VA's VistA digital patient record system, which is the nation's largest EMR system overall. KP, meanwhile, has the largest private sector e-health record system, containing information for about 9 million patients who get their care from KP providers in seven states and Wash. DC.

While there are also several different business and technology models emerging for formal health information exchange organizations to allow the sharing of patient data among healthcare providers in regions of the country, those HIEs frequently involve the creation of special data repositories and independent healthcare providers signing up for subscriptions to view data via the web or receive data feeds on patient lab, medication and other data from other area healthcare providers.

As for the new CCC, each consortium member has the commitment of their organization's CEO and is assigning staff and unspecified funding to the new project, which aims to begin exchanging data within the next nine to 18 months, said Fasano.

"Our organizations are funding this project, we're making it as aggressive as possible," said Mayo president and CEO John Noseworthy during the consortium's press conference.

To start, CCC members will share "small but really important information" about patients, including "basic demographics, medications, allergies, and some history," eventually expanding the sharing to "broader pieces of the chart," Fasano said.

CCC's on-demand exchange of patient data--with patient's consent--will replace "the most common model today" used by disparate healthcare providers to share patient information--which is, "can you please fax the patient's records?," Fasano said.

The consortium's exchange of data will leverage national standards for interoperability and also likely the KP developed Convergent Medical Terminology, said Fasano. KP donated CMT, a dictionary of 75,000 medical terms and concepts for interoperable use among e-health records, late last year to the global health community to provide "a common vernacular" for medical terminology among healthcare providers.

The consortium is currently looking at identity management and authentication products to be used for the data sharing, said Fasano. Two-tier authentication will include verification of each patient and the requesting healthcare provider's identity.

The CCC will serve the needs of the five organizations' "thousands" of patients who each year require medical treatment while traveling or otherwise seek care from other clinicians, such as Mayo specialists and others, said Fasano. KP and Group Health Collaborative also often treat each other's patients, since both serve in Washington State, said Fasano.

While the number of patients that will likely be part of the consortium's data sharing is expected to be relatively small, the aim is to demonstrate that "organizations across the country" can accomplish secure, patient-consented, information exchange, said Walker.

The CCC's goal is to provide clinicians with timely information about patients for improved coordination of care, helping doctors make better informed diagnoses and care decisions, and reduces unnecessary, redundant testing.

"Access to this information while making clinical decisions reduced costs and improves care," said Scott Armstrong, president and CEO of Group Health Collaborative during the press event.

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