By Tamer Abouras
Unity is an elusive concept and a curious term in how it’s interpreted. While it is rarely substituted for genuine friendship, the context in which it is used definitely matters. A united movement of activists, for instance, is probably populated by many people who have a lot in common.
The United States, on the other hand, is huge and disparate. A Pennsylvanian and a Californian are both Americans, but they may have fewer areas where they agree. Even if they voted for the same political party or stood shoulder-to-shoulder serving in the armed forces, they could be as different as two people from completely different countries and cultures — because in a lot of practical ways, they very nearly are. And, yet, they’re united.
If you’ve been keeping track of the 2016 presidential race recently, you’ve no doubt heard the rumblings of a “unity ticket” on the republican side. The theory is that with frontrunner Donald Trump consistently failing to achieve much more than 35-40% of the vote in most primary and caucus states, the unity ticket of rival senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (and possibly Ohio governor John Kasich) could unseat the New York billionaire by combining their respective voters.
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Unifying — whether suggested by the joining parties themselves or external forces — is oftentimes not the first choice of those involved. It’s usually the result of a “greater good” type of determination, where it’s the best overall solution, even if some enter into the arrangement reluctantly.
Whether or not that’s the case for several health IT providers this week, they are answering the bell and coming together in a major way — just one month after some prodding on the part of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
“Just a month after the AAFP suggested how legislators should press electronic health record (EHR) vendors to make sure their various systems can exchange data, the companies that provide 90% of EHR systems — along with some of the largest private health care systems — agreed to improve data sharing,” Jessica Pupillo wrote in an AAFP News release this week.
According to Pupillo, “Cerner Corp., Epic Systems Corp., Allscripts, NextGen Healthcare Information Systems Inc. and GE Healthcare were among the 17 health IT vendors to commit to improving EHRs, according to an HHS factsheet. Sixteen health care systems, including Ascension Health, Catholic Health Initiatives, Community Health Systems, Hospital Corporation of America, Kaiser Permanente and Trinity Health, also made the pledge.”
AAFP Board Chair Robert Wergin, MD, expressed his excitement saying, “The siloed type of records we have now sometimes creates obstacles for using information to create the best care for patients, especially for those in transition or with complex illnesses. … Interoperability, the ability for different health IT systems to communicate with each other and exchange data, is critical for family physicians. We are a specialty that interacts with all phases of the healthcare system. We must have the information we need to formulate treatment plans and create the best outcomes. Lack of interoperability creates problems.”
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Wergin also did not fail to cite the aspects of this grand bargain that might’ve been tougher for the companies to swallow — specifically that blocking the flow of EHR information has been something of a business model for a while now.
"It might be a good business model, but it's not a good healthcare model." When healthcare professionals' EHR systems can't communicate with each other, physicians resort to printing and faxing lengthy reports and discharge summaries. The current system of faxing information is really a page back to our old paper charts."
As with Cruz and Rubio, this is the sort of unification that might not be desirable, at least in the short-term. But for the greater good, isn’t it nice to know some unity or dream tickets really can come to life?