Cerner, McKesson and other EMR rivals form interoperability partnership

A group of competing electronic health record vendors have agreed to work together to promote data exchange standards across their systems--and welcome all other EMR vendors to join them.

The companies--Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth and Greenway Medical Technologies--announced they have formed a nonprofit organization called the CommonWell Health Alliance to facilitate data exchange.

The announcement came at a joint press conference at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference, taking place this week in New Orleans, and confirmed hints of an alliance between Cerner and McKesson leading up to the show. 

"Healthcare's going through significant change, all of us know it. We're living through it," McKesson CEO John Hammergren said. "We believe that one of the key challenges we face is not just automated healthcare, but connecting it together. Over time, we've done a good job as an industry automating our silos, but we've not done a very good job of collaborating across the silos and developing the connectivity … the data liquidity necessary to make that happen.

"This interoperability mission is really an imperative for us. We know that it's going to take significant work."

Cerner CEO Neal Patterson called the collaboration a beginning, saying that the government has not and is not going to deal with the problem of interoperability.

"We basically need data liquidity that is in the guardrails of security and safety and privacy," he said.

Patterson talked about services that the new alliance will offer, including cross-entity patient linking and matching, patient consent and data access matching and patient record locator and directed query services, all of which will be tested at a yet-to-be-determined pilot within the next year.

"When we try to move information between different organizations that have different IDs, or between different systems' architectures, there is no ID to connect the two datasets," he said. "We really need the entire industry being here ... to create a solution to this problem."

Notably absent from the announcement, was EHR vendor Epic. When asked whether or not the Verona, Wis.-based company was asked to join the alliance, Hammergren said that all companies have an open invitation.

"Clearly one of the forcing functions here as Cerner and McKesson began this process was 'how many?' 'how fast?' and 'do we want to wait until we have 100 percent of the world into this before we announce it, or do we want to announce it and encourage the rest of the world to join?' Part of this was, 'let's get this out the door and encourage everyone to join,'" he said.

"The fact that we're up here doesn't mean this is an exclusive group," Hammergren added. "This is the first group of many groups, ultimately."

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- check out the new group's website