Organizations that link their IT systems to share electronic health records

Glory be. There’s good news tonight in American healthcare.

It did not come from laws, regulations, or government edict, although there has been much government activity in the field; it did not come from the behemoths of information technology like Google, Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco, although much hard work in IT did precede it; it did not come from the for-profit healthcare industry giants like GE, Big Pharma, United Healthcare, or Aetna, although many have talked a related good game for decades; and it did not come from the trade associations like AMA, AHA, AMIA, or even HIMSS.

It did come from the not-for-profit healthcare delivery sector. How fitting.

It is “The Care Connectivity Consortium”, comprised of Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania, Kaiser Permanente of California, Intermountain Healthcare of Utah, Group Health Cooperative of Washington, and Mayo Clinic of Minnesota, Arizona, and Florida.

These five innovative and forward thinking organizations have announced that they will link their IT systems so that they will be able to securely exchange electronic health records.

They won’t compete; they will share.

Over time, Accountable Care Organizations encouraged by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act can do the same thing.

Interoperability has always been the key.

American entrepreneurialism has promulgated individuality. An old story, and in healthcare IT, a strategy that may win short term for some shareholders, but the country, patients, and the public health all lose.

I am old and unapologetically old-fashioned in some things. I still believe that medicine is a service profession and that the roots of hospitals as fundamentally charitable is still the right cultural mind set.

When the dust settles on the reform of the American healthcare system, if it ever does, the citizenry would be best served by a healthcare system of dozens of replicates or clones of the five organizations named in this revolutionary consortium.

Not only one, since excess bigness alone can be a grave handicap. But many, with similar evidence-based, service-oriented, cost-conscious, patient-centered, fundamentally ethical organizations of well educated, public-spirited individuals.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act and David Blumenthal’s massive efforts at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, nothing really propelled health IT interoperability except common sense and human decency.

Let’s hear it for the new Big 5. And, for the rest of healthcare, America, it is time to play “follow the leader”.

George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Originally published in MedPage Today. Visit MedPageToday.com for more health policy news.

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