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Tuesday April 4, 2023  |  Luke Marinac

Advancing Interoperability in the Age of TEFCA: An Interview with CommonWell's Executive Director, Paul Wilder: Part 3

2023 marks the 10th Anniversary of the CommonWell Health Alliance, a ground-breaking non-profit trade alliance of over 70 companies working in the health IT marketplace to advance Interoperability nationwide. During the last decade, CommonWell has played a pivotal role in uniting healthcare organizations and industry leaders in pursuit of that goal.

As a proud member of the Alliance, we're delighted to share an exclusive Q&A with Paul L Wilder, Executive Director of CommonWell. In part three of this interview, we delve into big tech players entering the healthcare space, how CommonWell safeguards patient data, and what they’re doing to relieve physician burnout.

MEDHOST: New technologies and the entrance of big tech players into healthcare are changing how people engage with their care providers. How do you see CommonWell fitting into this new paradigm where data is becoming readily available to the patient on their devices and is potentially shareable?

Paul L Wilder: There are several of these organizations interested in the big data processing aspect of healthcare. Specifically, they want to help warehouse and analyze healthcare data on behalf of providers. These organizations are playing both sides, which is a good thing as they are bringing the consumer side into the mix.

I do have some concerns, mostly related to recent social media issues in this space and want to acknowledge that some trepidation from the public is warranted. While getting the data moving is important, it should not come at the cost of security and privacy for patients. If these organizations come to join the Alliance, a long conversation about controls will be necessary.

That being said, we’re excited about the potential for that collaboration. More people should be able to access their healthcare data in the way they want and it should be a good experience. These organizations have the power to help make that a reality. It just has to be done responsibly.

MEDHOST: That’s a good point. Ensuring health data privacy and security throughout the entire data exchange process is often a key pain point for providers. What steps does CommonWell take, in conjunction with its partners, to safeguard patient data?

Paul L Wilder: So, the first thing I want to emphasize is the importance of never creating a honey pot.

Yes, we do have a database of a lot of individuals. We recently crossed the 200 million unique individuals mark. Their data is considered protected health information (PHI) because it can reveal where someone lives and receives care. However, the real data that someone might want is not stored in our system. We are a fully federated environment, which means that we don't store the data that is being transmitted between different providers. We act as a large switchboard, basically, facilitating lawful exchange of data between providers without keeping a copy of anything.

While this creates a high level of security, we know that security is always the weakest link, and every connected system needs to have a high level of safeguards as well. It's important to carefully select products and implement multi-factor authentication to ensure a secure user experience, among other leading practices. We haven't mandated these security measures across the network, but our vendors are already doing them anyway.

The main thing is to make sure we're not storing essential copies of anything. We facilitate the exchange of data between providers, but we don't store it ourselves. This is a huge step towards ensuring privacy and security for all individuals involved. While there may be state-level requirements to store data in certain cases, at our scale, we don't see the need to have all that data in our system.

MEDHOST: Since 2020, nearly 1 in 5 healthcare workers have quit their job. Physician burnout is at historic levels.

Physicians are becoming increasingly overwhelmed with the amount of data they have to keep up with. How can HIT providers like MEDHOST work with CommonWell to make sure physicians aren’t constantly dealing with data overload?

Paul L Wilder: In terms of improving the healthcare system, we suggest finding simple workflows that highlight available data to patients, such as medication reconciliation or presenting diagnosis and procedure data. We acknowledged the issue of alert fatigue but still want to emphasize the importance of presenting necessary warnings and having conversations with healthcare providers about how to make the app work better for them.

There is also the need for healthcare providers to be aware of all the data that is contained and being exchanged, and to have conversations about what data they trust and what they want to see next. Our advice is to start with something simple and ask what providers want next in order to improve the app.

Overall, our main focus should be on finding ways to make the healthcare system more efficient and effective for both patients and providers.

Thank you for following our interview. If you missed the previous entries, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

To learn more about how MEDHOST partners with CommonWell to help create a more interoperable care network, email or call us at 1.800.383.6278.

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