And then there was one. The announcement earlier this week that major electronic health-record vendor Meditech is joining the burgeoning CommonWell Health Alliance information-exchange network now leaves Epic Systems Corp. as the only company among the sector's top five vendors that doesn't belong to the barely 2-year-old group.
CommonWell participating vendors now serve over 70% of acute-care facilities and 20% of ambulatory facilities, said Jitin Asnaani, the group's executive director.
Questions about why Epic is not involved surfaced almost from CommonWell's beginnings in 2013. At the time, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner quipped that Epic simply had not been asked to join.
Faulkner, commenting on the latest development via e-mail, said Epic's customers are interested in connecting to all the various health information networks. She touted the efforts of Carequality, an organization working toward that goal.
“If CommonWell becomes successful, it should be able to connect via Carequality,” she wrote.
“I do see a world where networks do connect to each other,” Asnaani replied, crediting Carequality's efforts towards creating such bridging.
Still, he said, “Bridging is not something I expect to happen a month or a few months from now. Maybe a couple years.”
“CommonWell is building a functioning network where real interoperability is happening,” he concluded.
Besides Meditech, other prominent participants in CommonWell include Cerner Corp. and Athenahealth, among 25 vendor members.
Only a small sliver of vendors' clients are actually live and exchanging data in just 20 provider locations. That's by design, Asnaani said. The group is starting small so it can quickly solve problems that arise in exchanging healthcare information.
The group's expectation is that “20 provider locations will be a dot in the rearview mirror” by the end of the year, Asnaani said.
The growing appeal of the network, for vendors and providers, springs from its low cost of information exchange, Asnaani said. “This is one of the cheapest models, if not the cheapest model," he claimed.
The reason is the architecture of the system, he explained. In other information exchange situations, participants need to build interfaces between each spoke in the network. With CommonWell, member vendors just need to build one platform. “They don't have to rebuild interfaces,” he said.
Carol Robinson, a principal with Robinson & Associates Consulting, said the addition of Meditech could encourage more information exchange, producing two positives.
Providers who are interested in sticking with their current EHRs, but feel pressured to switch because other hospitals and providers in their area have different systems, could be encouraged to use CommonWell instead of switching vendors.
Second, she said, creating a network encouraging information sharing is important for providers on risk-sharing contracts that demand care coordination. “It only makes sense that a more open kind of EHR-to-EHR data exchange, like CommonWell, will increase in value,” she said.
Additional reporting from Joseph Conn