Health CEOs work to free medical records

Nashville is home to more than 400 health care companies, but the Fab Five are HCA Holdings (HCA), Community Health Systems (CHS), LifePoint Hospitals, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Saint Thomas Health. Each is a multibillion-dollar organization that employs thousands of health care professionals. It is rare to see the CEOs of all of Nashville’s Fab Five committing their time and energy to a common cause, but that is what happened earlier this month. The cause? Figuring out how different health IT systems can communicate and exchange data.

In 2004, President George W. Bush created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) with a mandate to implement a “nationwide … interoperable information technology infrastructure.” Now, more than a decade later, only 11 percent of health care chief information officers indicate they are able to routinely exchange electronic patient information with other providers. Our health care data that are supposed to be so useful are stuck in artificial silos created by the different health IT systems that we use. In fact, HHS issued a report this month admonishing the health information community, indicating that “information blocking” by health IT vendors and providers is widespread. Dr. Karen DeSalvo, head of the ONC, noted problems including vendor strategies to obstruct information downloading, competitors’ excessive charges for information sharing, collusion between vendors and providers regarding information transfer, and restrictive terms in vendor contracts. In all, a scathing report that the national investment in “meaningful use” of electronic health records was being deliberately and unintentionally obstructed for commercial gain.

Over the years, several health information companies have attempted to respond by creating the CommonWell Health Alliance. The alliance was designed to promote data sharing, but a number of the largest health IT vendors, including industry leader Epic Systems, are not participating.

Enter the Center for Medical Interoperability and its newest board members: HCA CEO Milton Johnson, CHS CEO Wayne Smith, LifePoint CEO Bill Carpenter, Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs Dr. Jeff Balser and Saint Thomas Health CEO Dr. Michael Schatzlein. The goal of the Center for Medical Interoperability is to connect these health information silos so that different platforms and providers can communicate and share data freely. The new health information technologies are keys to the paradigm shift to coordinate care across health sectors and among all health providers. This shift will require the ready access and seamless transfer of health data to the point of care without compromising quality or safety.

In addition to the Nashville Fab Five, the center’s board includes representatives from Northwestern University Medical Center, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University Medical Center and other national leaders in health services. As the health care industry continues its march through major reform, the ability to share data across platforms and providers is essential. Let’s hope Nashville’s Fab Five can help create a path through the health IT maze.

Richard Cowart is chairman of the health law and public policy departments at Baker Donelson law firm. Reach him at

Via The Tennessean