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Cerner CEO Neal Patterson tells Senate committee of wife's interoperability dilemma

Neal Patterson, CEO of EHR vendor Cerner Corp. — a founding member of CommonWell Health Alliance — has a personal reason to pull for CommonWell to realize its goal of greater health IT interoperability. Patterson’s wife, Jeanne, has been a breast cancer patient for eight years and keeps paper copies of her records in shopping bags. The absence of interoperability between the 20 different healthcare organizations’ EHRs that have some of Jeanne’s medical record forced her to maintain her own archive.

Neal Patterson told an abridged version of his wife’s story during testimony at a meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions on healthcare interoperability. Patterson stated that all EHR vendors must cooperate for nationwide interoperability to happen and they must accept “that once technological silos are eliminated, they will have to compete on innovation, quality and cost.”

Others who gave testimony to the Senate committee were Christine Bechtel, National Partnership for Women & Families chair and a member of the federal Health IT Policy Committee; Craig Richardville, senior vice president and CIO at the Charlotte, N.C.-based Carolinas HealthCare System; and Thomas Payne, M.D., medical director of IT services at UW Medicine and the University of Washington School of Medicine, and chair-elect of the AMIA board of directors.

Richardville stated poor interoperability isn’t limited to patient data held in EHRs; some of it is also stuck in registration, billing and lab systems. He emphasized that becoming more interoperable can be a costly process for providers and that “care providers are missing opportunities to improve people’s health and welfare when information about care or health status is not easily available.”

Payne gave a brief rundown of a recent report published by an AMIA task force. The report was created over the course of a year and culminated in 10 recommendations, separated into four categories. The task force concluded that documentation should be improved to allow patients to contribute to their care, regulations should be adjusted to focus on patient care, transparency should be heightened to benefit EHR safety and usability, and innovation should be encouraged to inspire the next generation of EHRs.

Bechtel spoke about how healthcare consumers can bring about change in the industry if given the chance. She suggested equipping patients with an application that stores their complete medical record and allows them to share it with anyone who treats them — the electronic equivalent of Jeanne Patterson’s bag collection.