A handful of health IT announcements in recent days may help to alleviate some of the recurring concerns about electronic health records — that they are not easily transferable among different providers and that they create new risks for patients and providers.
The biggest came from the CommonWell Health Alliance, a group of health IT companies working together to make EHRs more interchangeable among different hospitals and systems. The news is that the group now can offer its services nationally after piloting the effort this year.
What that means is its EHR vendor members, which include companies like Allscripts, Greenway and McKesson, can offer provider clients the important CommonWell service of creating a shared means of patient identification.
Quickly getting past that patient identification process will allow for different providers to retrieve and share the electronic records of the patient, another service that CommonWell offers.
Members AthenaHealth and Cerner both announced that they were working to expand the alliance's reach geographically beyond the four pilot sites.
AthenaHealth announced that CommonWell services are now available in Florida, Massachusetts and Washington state, at no cost to its clients.
Cerner also is making a push with CommonWell's services, offering to provide them across the country at no cost to the client for three years.
Separately, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced some changes that, while not dramatic, appear to be positive for the hospital field. The agency gave hospitals and critical access hospitals until Dec. 31 to file their documents for attestation in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, and also for the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program.
CMS also created the Office of Enterprise Data and Analytics, and the position of chief data officer to lead the new office. Hired into the CDO position was CMS staffer Niall Brennan.
And finally, the ECRI Institute released a list of its Top 10 Health Technology Hazards for 2015, two of which are related to health IT. Number 2 on the list is data integrity, referring to the risk of incorrect or missing data in an EHR. "What makes this problem so troubling is that the integrity of the data in health IT systems can be compromised in a number of ways and, once errors are introduced, they can be difficult to spot and correct," the authors of a report on the list wrote.
Ranked ninth on the ECRI list is cybersecurity for medical devices and systems, something ECRI officials don't believe is a current major threat, but could be soon. "Despite little evidence to date of direct harm to patients from the exploitation of cyber vulnerabilities, cybersecurity is nevertheless a patient safety consideration that will require increased attention in the coming years," the report authors wrote.