Last week, five health IT vendors came together to announce the CommonWell Health Alliance, a nonprofit focused on developing a national secure network and standards that will:

1. Unambiguously identify patients

2. Provide a national, secure record locator service. For treatment purposes, providers can know where a patient’s records are located.

3. Enable peer-to-peer sharing of patient records requested via a targeted (or directed) query

4. Enable patients and consumers to withhold consent / authorization for participation in the network

Unambiguous patient identity matters

In banking, without certainty about identity, ATM machines would not give out cash.  And in healthcare without certainty about identity, physicians are working with one hand tied behind their backs.

This problem will never be solved by the Feds. In fact, Congress has restricted any spending on it by the government at all.  Industry working together may be the only practical alternative.

CommonWell doesn’t intend to create a national patient identifier.  Instead it will use practical, robust identity mechanisms that a patient or consumer could provide to each physician or caregiver.  That might be based on a one-way hash of a cell phone number, an email address or a swipe of a driver’s license.  The Alliance members will decide on this as part of its standards.

Locating data is critical to clinical decisions

Imagine a cancer patient with a primary care doc they visit in a family practice, a surgical oncologist in private practice, a plastic surgeon and medical oncologist at one academic medical center and a second opinion oncology team at yet another academic medical center.

Chances are those caregivers all using different EHRs, and they may even be in different geographies.  The physicians don’t know where the records are.  Yet each physician needs real-time access to ALL of the patient’s information with critical clinical decisions hanging in the balance.

CommonWell intends to address these gaps by delivering a secure national record locator service and standards for peer-to-peer targeted queries.  Data that is returned to the physician are not stored on the CommonWell network, nor is the data normalized.

Founding members want every health IT vendor to join CommonWell Health Alliance

Those of us in the Alliance are aligned in our desire to be inclusive and welcoming to all.  The founding members are making significant commitments of money and product developer time for the good of each patient and physician.

I have personally worked with the thought leaders of this effort over several years on ONC initiatives, including the Direct Project and Meaningful Use standards for Stage 2, and I can vouch for their integrity, goals and expertise.  They’ve thought this approach through carefully, not only technically, but also in connection with governance, policy, privacy and security.

Allscripts and the CommonWell Health Alliance are committed to practical, standards-based solutions that can make healthcare safer and more responsive to the physician and patient.  To that end, the Alliance looks forward to working collaboratively with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, other vendors and with standards bodies to achieve these objectives.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on The Health Care Blog.

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About the author

As Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Allscripts, Rich Elmore works on innovations, managing exploration and execution of strategic partnerships and acquisitions. During 2011-12, he took a leave of absence to lead the Query Health initiative for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), US Department of Health and Human Services. He also led ONC’s initiative for Consolidated CDA and Transitions of Care, served as a workgroup leader for ONC’s Direct Project, and was a founding member of the CCHIT Interoperability workgroup. Previously, Rich ran the Flowcast Hospital business for IDX (before the company’s merger with GE Healthcare) and served on the IDX Corporate Strategy Board. Rich has degrees from Dartmouth College (BA) and New School University (MA Economics). He serves on the Scientific Advisory Group for Innovations in Monitoring Population Health Using Electronic Health Records – a multi-year research initiative of the Primary Care Information Project. He also serves on the advisory board to the Sudan Development Foundation, building health clinics in the world’s newest nation (South Sudan), and is Vice President on the Board of Directors for the King Street Center, serving kids and families in need in Burlington, Vermont.



Barry Hieb says:

03/15/2013 at 12:36 pm

CommonWell does not need to create a national patient identifier but they should at least look at the possibility of using one that already exists. describes the Voluntary Universal Healthcare Identifier (VUHID) system that is supported by Global Patient Identifiers, Inc. (GPII). GPII is a healthcare non-profit organization that is dedicated to the deployment of VUHID identifiers to achieve two primary goals: 1) accurate patient identification across all healthcare silos and 2) improved privacy of clinical information. We hope that CommonWell will include a serious analysis of the VUHID system. We believe it meets or exceeds all of the criteria that have been published concerning the use of a national individual healthcare identifier.


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