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Epic CEO opens up about CommonWell data interoperability project

Epic CEO Judy Faulkner says she worries the CommonWell data interoperability project will just be used as a competitive weapon.

Ever since some of the biggest players in the EHR market announced the creation of the CommonWell Health Alliance, a data interoperability partnership, at HIMSS13, observers have noted the absence of Epic Systems Corp., one of the major vendors in the market. The company's CEO, Judy Faulkner, finally shared her thoughts on the subject at the April 4 meeting of the Office of the National Coordinator's Health IT Policy Committee.

The CommonWell Health Alliance is a collaborative effort on the part of Cerner Corp., McKesson Corp., Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc., athenahealth Inc. and Greenway Medical Technologies Inc. The vendors came together to form a non-profit entity for the purposes of promoting data standards and interoperability. The Health IT Policy Committee discussed where the initiative fits into the federal government's own efforts to encourage data interoperability.

Faulkner, who is a member of the Health IT Policy Committee, said her company was not asked to participate in CommonWell from the start. She said she first heard about CommonWell at HIMSS 2013, when one of the event's keynote speakers criticized Epic for not being a part of the initiative. She said that not being asked to participate in CommonWell made her question the purpose of the enterprise.

"We wondered, what is it?" Faulkner said. "Is it a competitive business or is it a public service? On the surface, it felt like a business. We do know that it's expensive to participate, especially if you're not one of the originals. My question is, 'What components of the business will be in it? Will it be favoring those who started it?'"

She added that she is concerned the CommonWell initiative will be used to gain a competitive advantage over EHR vendors that are not currently involved. Faulkner said she also worries about data privacy and the organization's transparency.

Health IT Policy Committee member Charles Kennedy, CEO of accountable care solutions at Aetna Inc., and the National Coordinator for Health IT, Farzad Mostashari, both said they feel too few details of the project have been released to make predictions about its effects.

When CommonWell was first announced at HIMSS in March, Cerner CEO Neal Patterson said the initiative needs and wants the entire industry to participate. McKesson CEO John Hammergren said all vendors, including Epic, will eventually be asked to participate, but that Epic will have to decide if participating is in the company's best interest.

Some have speculated that CommonWell may be the result of an effort – on the part of the five vendors currently involved -- to compete with Epic. A March report from Austin-based consulting firm Software Advice showed that Epic software is used in nearly 22% of all successful meaningful use attestations. The company's closest competitor is Allscripts, which has 12% of successful attestations.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ed Burns, news writer, or contact @EdBurnsTT on Twitter.

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