Feb 06, 2013 (08:02 AM EST)
McKesson, Cerner Talk Health IT Interoperability Alliance?

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

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Health IT systems vendors McKesson and Cerner are said to be working on a landmark of a deal to cooperate on health information exchange (HIE), potentially breaking down a key barrier to the vision of a nationwide network of interoperable electronic health records (EHRs). It also would put the two companies on stronger footing against rival Epic Systems, which has come to dominate other enterprise EHR vendors in the fast-growing ambulatory market

TechTarget's SearchHealthIT reported Monday that the two companies were "in discussions to make their EHR patient data exchange interoperable." Citing unnamed sources, SearchHealthIT said Cerner and McKesson were "working on a joint agreement to enable cross-vendor, national health information exchange," in a challenge to Epic, which prefers to sell end-to-end systems rather than interface with other vendors' products.

The publication said a deal could be announced at next month's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference in New Orleans, the largest health IT event of the year.

McKesson's RelayHealth HIE platform could be at the center of the partnership, the report added.

[ Patient engagement is a big part of Meaningful Use. Are you ready? See 7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement. ]

For their part, the two companies said to be involved are not divulging anything. In a terse e-mailed statement from a spokesperson, McKesson said it "does not comment on rumors or speculation." A Cerner spokesperson also declined to comment.

Interoperability, or lack thereof, has been a hot topic of late in health IT policy circles, including among EHR vendors. Last month, the HIMSS EHR Association (EHRA), a group of 40 vendors convened by HIMSS, called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to shift the focus of the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program to interoperability of healthcare information rather than ask providers and their vendors to add capabilities to their EHR systems in future stages.

Cerner, McKesson and Epic all belong to the EHRA.

As SearchHealthIT noted, Cerner CEO Neal Patterson told two federal advisory panels on Jan. 29 that his company was committed to "a more aggressive approach to data liquidity and exchange."

While the publication quoted Gartner health IT analyst Wes Rishel as saying a McKesson-Cerner HIE agreement could "put the fulcrum in the right place to make the seesaw fall the other way" instead of continuing the established practice of big vendors marketing proprietary databases, some other industry watchers are skeptical.

"Great marketing with little impact is how I would categorize this potential announcement," Michael W. Davis, principal of Mountain Summit Advisors of Highlands Ranch, Colo., and a former executive VP with HIMSS Analytics, told InformationWeek Healthcare via e-mail. Davis said the Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements that providers be able to output patient summary records in the clinical document architecture (CDA) standard and the rise of the Direct Project makes "the interoperability problem ... almost benign."

Added Davis, "Once you have the standard transactions defined, you should be able to share patient data across any EMR systems."

Davis also said that Cerner is unable to compete with Epic right now on enterprise-wise systems because the former does not have integrated revenue-cycle management functionality.

Federal Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements will make your medical organization more competitive -- if they don't drive you off the deep end. Also in the new, all-digital Meaningful Mania Part 2 issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: As a nation, we're falling short of the goal of boosting efficiency and saving money with health IT. (Free with registration.)