They are the American Medical Association (AMA); Epic, the largest EHR vendor; Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO; the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), which operates New York State's health information exchange; MedVirginia, a health information organization based in Richmond, Va.; Orion Health, a leading health information exchange (HIE) vendor; ICA, a spinoff of Vanderbilt Medical Center that sells clinical informatics products; Mirth Corp., a top vendor of middleware for healthcare systems; and the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange (WEDI), a nonprofit organization that helps healthcare providers and payers implement standards related to health information exchange.
Seven of the founding members are represented on Healtheway's board of directors, and MedVirginia's CEO, Michael Matthews, is also the president and CEO of Healtheway. But as Healtheway's membership grows and elects new board members, the composition of the board will change, said Mariann Yeager, executive director of Healtheway, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.
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Helping to grow the membership is one of the functions of the founding members, who were self-selected, according to Yeager. "These founding members have made a commitment to help guide Healtheway as it moves forward," she said.
"These are all thought leaders in the field of health IT and HIE, and we're looking to them for strategic guidance. Our first focus of business is providing operational support to the eHealth Exchange and doing a bang-up job with that. But that's only the first line of business. We're also going to explore other lines of business as we move forward. And the founding members will be instrumental in helping us do that as well," she added.
Asked what other areas Healtheway is looking at, Matthews deferred to Yeager, who declined to be specific. She would only say that some in the industry have been asking Healtheway to get involved in other initiatives related to interoperability.
Since the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC) converted the eHealth Exchange into a public-private entity last fall, it has experienced substantial growth. Currently, the network has 40 participants, including four federal agencies, six statewide HIEs, eight ONC Beacon Communities, and more than a dozen health information organizations (HIOs) and healthcare systems, among them Kaiser Permanente.
Healtheway recently partnered with the Interoperability Work Group (IWG), a coalition of states and HIE and EHR vendors, to create a certification program aimed at producing "plug and play" interoperability among HIEs and between HIEs and the eHealth Exchange. In addition, Healtheway has signed a collaboration agreement with the Care Connectivity Consortium (CCC), a group of five large healthcare organizations that are trying to improve interoperability among their systems. All of them have joined the eHealth Exchange or are in the process of being vetted for membership.
Jeri Kirschner, federal health liaison for Orion Health, told InformationWeek Healthcare that Orion wanted to become a founding member of Healtheway partly because of the group's role in the eHealth Exchange, which she said is crucial to improving interoperability. She believes that Healtheway's partnerships with CCC and IWG are helping the eHealth Exchange build momentum in the industry.
Kirschner, who also sits on Healtheway's board, said Orion is in the process of getting Healtheway/IWG certification from the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT). CCHIT will certify that an HIE vendor's "gateway" to the eHealth Exchange meets Healtheway/IWG standards for "plug and play" interoperability.
Epic's decision to become a founding member of Healtheway is interesting in light of its alleged exclusion from CommonWell, another budding national information exchange that includes several other leading EHR vendors.
But Matthews noted that Epic joined Healtheway because it is a "big supporter of standards-based interoperability. A number of Epic clients have onboarded with the eHealth Exchange, and they want to see continued standards-based interoperability so their clients can onboard as effectively and efficiently as possible," he continued.
Yeager agreed, pointing out that "Epic has been involved with helping their customers exchange data with organizations on different platforms via the eHealth Exchange for a couple of years now. So it's not new for them."
Both Healtheway executives said they expect more EHR companies to join the organization. "Other vendors are coming forward, because it enables their customers to share data with other organizations, regardless of the technology platform," Yeager noted.
Matthews said EHR vendors' customers are demanding it "because they're recognizing the value proposition for health information exchange." In addition, he noted, they know they'll have to exchange data to meet the requirements of Meaningful Use Stage 2.
"Companies go where the customers are and want to go, so they're being responsive," he said.