A conversation with Jitin Asnaani, Executive Director, CommonWell Health Alliance

mark stevens
Mark W. Stevens, Contributing Editor

As a part of our “Countdown to IHT2 Cleveland Big Data Conference,” I spoke with Jitin Asnaani, Executive Director of CommonWell Health Alliance, a national not-for-profit interoperability collaborative dedicated to the vision that health data should always follow the patient, regardless of where care occurs. Prior to CommonWell, which was founded in 2013 by industry titans athenahealth, Allscripts, Cerner, Evident, Greenway Health, McKesson and Sunquest, Asnaani worked for athenahealth, where he helped build and expand their cloud-based interoperability platform. Previously, Asnaani was an appointee at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), where he helped incubate and launch the S&I Framework and led The Direct Project. He received his undergraduate degree in computer Science & Engineering from M.I.T. and his MBA from Harvard, and has been with CommonWell since March, 2015.

Stevens:  You just returned from HIMSS16, how did it compare with last year’s conference and with what were you able to come away?

Jitin Asnaani, Executive Director, CommonWell Health Alliance

Asnaani: What jumped out at me most was the enthusiasm for the value of putting the patient at the center of care. I think providers acknowledged the concept of patient-centered care some time ago, but I think they’re starting to experience the powerful role of health IT in committing to that transformation. That’s why CommonWell is so laser-focused on deployment. By putting our cross-vendor interoperability services in action, we’re able to help providers transform the model so that care is truly centered on each individual. I was very enthused by the industry readiness for services like our patient record locator, not just in the hospital and clinic settings, but in the post-acute market as well. After all, healthcare doesn’t stop when a patient leaves the hospital, so the patient record shouldn’t stop there either. It’s time to start bringing the tangible value of interoperability to patients and caregivers, and I’m excited to see how CommonWell services will have a role in that transformation.

Stevens: There is much activity on the interoperability front. What among the current initiatives do you see ultimately gaining traction, and do you see HHS as the leading driver of progress and innovation, the vendor community or providers/payers?

Asnaani: When the issue is this significant and the need this urgent, we need the good thinking and active participation of everyone. All hands on deck – with maybe some division of labor so that we don’t duplicate effort. I see the CommonWell role primarily focused on nationwide deployment of a cross-vendor interoperability infrastructure that is patient-centered, while HHS will continue to be a driving force on broader policy. 

But let’s not silo our efforts so completely that we fall into the same specialization trap that created our currently fragmented model. We need diversity of experience and expertise in everything we develop and implement. And we need to involve others in our monitoring and measurement of success. That’s why we solicited membership across the continuum and recently established the CommonWell Advisory Board – to ensure the voices of providers, staff and patients are captured and acted upon. CommonWell also supports and works with other initiatives, such as the HIMSS organization, DirectTrust, NATE, Center4MI, The Sequoia Project, The Argonaut Project and HL7 – all of which are contributing to the enhancement of true interoperability in unique and valuable ways. 

Stevens: What role do you see the consumer playing in the advancement of interoperability?

Asnaani: If we put them at the center of their care as everyone wants, they’re pivotal. We made them first-class citizens of our infrastructure – really at the center of everything we have created – so that patients and all those who care for them can be empowered to provide care that is informed by secure and authorized access to that patient’s data, no matter where care has occurred.

I’ve used the phrase “tipping point” of late – about the health IT world in general and CommonWell cross-vendor interoperability services specifically. I think we are very close to the point when interoperability services are not just available, but expected – even demanded. Providers will drive that before consumers, but I don’t think consumers will wait very long. In fact some of them are already vigorously demanding their data, and I expect more to join the chorus.    

Stevens:  CommonWell is purely a U.S. domestic-focused organization, but a number of your members operate globally. What Health IT advances abroad do see most effecting the U.S. healthcare market, and who are the leaders in healthcare outside of the U.S. for whom we should be on the lookout?

Asnaani: Our priority continues to be focused on U.S.–based providers and healthcare organizations, ensuring that they have access to our cross-vendor interoperability services. However, it is interesting how much demand we have seen from other countries, particular England and Canada, which share some amount of overlap with the U.S. in terms of both technical resources and operational challenges. What that tells me is that we in the U.S. may well be that leader, that looking inside may be as valuable as looking outside, that maybe we here at CommonWell have specifically stumbled into something unique and transferable. 

What that also tells me is that solving the healthcare interoperability problem is difficult and complicated. As we know from the consumer internet world – the more complicated a problem is, the more important it becomes to find a simple approach that can create powerful outcomes. CommonWell has grown from a pie-in-the-sky concept to real-life deployments across all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and done so in a matter of just three years. And that’s because the health IT vendor community decided to come together, to collaborate and to lead the industry forward. Perhaps that is the simple approach that other countries can emulate to create powerful and effective interoperability in their communities.

Stevens: Jitin, you’ve been invited to participate on an interoperability panel at IHT2’s Cleveland Big Data Conference in April. Can you provide us a preview?

Asnaani: I think that the panel will be an opportunity to explore the many complexities involved in reaching true nationwide interoperability. One theme that I will certainly raise is the impact of interoperability on patient-centered care. Of interest to the audience will be the specific role of industry standards, but we’ll also go a step further and discuss the need for functioning solutions that are scalable nationwide. I’ll highlight how CommonWell cross-vendor services are contributing to nationwide interoperability and how our own use of standards has enabled us to accelerate adoption and development at a lower cost to the end-user.

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Just prior to HIMSS’16, CommonWell announced that it was expanding its cross-vendor interoperability services to the post-acute market, with vendor-members Brightree, Cerner and McKesson among the first who will be deploying these services nationwide. According to the February 25th release, “The plan is to put health information in the hands of caregivers across the continuum, including patients themselves, with data access from other health information technology systems, patient portals and apps.” For more information, visit:  http://hitconsultant.net/2016/02/25/commonwell-expands-cross-vendor-interoperability-to-post-acute-market/.

CommonWell Health Alliance, HIMSS, HIMSS'16, IHT2, IHT2’s Cleveland Big Data Conference, interoperability


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