Walking around the future headquarters of the organization he’s been charged to build, Ed Cantwell shared his grand aspirations.
Ideally, he said, the space on the second floor of OneCity’s first office building will become a hub for the way future health care innovations are developed. The goal is to house more than 100 engineers here, staffing a lab that helps health care technologies work together in a way that can transform the industry. He also hopes to share space with innovators and entrepreneurs who see ways to make a real difference in health care once the industry’s data is more accessible.
“I know why I’m here,” said Cantwell, executive director of the Center for Medical Interoperability. “A lot of other organizations don’t understand why you would put this center in Nashville, [they’d say] put it in Silicon Valley, put it in Boston, put it in D.C. I want this to be accessible to anybody in Nashville that wants to talk about innovation and transform via an interoperable platform.”
Interoperability is one of those health care buzzwords that lots of people use without necessarily defining it the same way. For the purposes of the center, Cantwell said, it means effectively sharing data in a way that ensures health care technologies, products and tools meet five criteria: they must be plug-and-play (no cost to switching platforms), two-way (able to both send and receive), one-to-many (so the addition of a new device doesn’t throw off what’s already hooked up), standard space (aka not proprietary) and truly trusted (guaranteeing safety, privacy and security).
In practice, he compared the idea to a state-of-the-art Ford F-150.
“What happens between [electronic medical record vendors] Cerner and Epic is data-sharing. … It’s as if I allowed my GPS location of my Ford to go into a database to be accessible to others,” he explained. “True interoperability is the 13 censors in my truck connected to the brakes, connected to a computer, that senses a collision and applies the brakes, even though I might miss it.”
There’s one big reason Nashville’s the best place to set up a center that can help the industry achieve that level of performance in health care, Cantwell said. Actually, there are five: HCA Holdings, Inc., Community Health Systems, LifePoint Health, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Ascension Health (represented here by its local system, Saint Thomas Health).
That list includes three of the country’s largest for-profit hospital systems, its largest nonprofit system and one of its most prestigious academic medical centers, and they’re all represented on the CMI board. The “procurement power” of those groups makes it more likely they can influence vendors to work with the center on achieving those criteria, Cantwell said.
Cantwell compares the center to similar industry labs in other industries, particularly the cable industry’s operation in Colorado. That’s the model he shared with the philanthropists who helped get the center started, Gary and Mary West, who see this type of endeavor as key to improving health care quality while cutting its cost.
“If you don’t solve this interoperability issue, then health care will never command the data that allows us to address the high cost, the poor patient safety, the precision medicine. And you’ll never relieve the burden from the caregiver,” Cantwell said.
But if the problem can be solved, he continued, it will be “truly transformational, because you’re going to get innovation in health care like you’ve never seen before.”