Mary Paul, vice president in the information services division of Ascension, one of the participants in the agreement, said that "interoperability" is "core to the goal" of having providers connect with each other to care for their patients. (Ascension is the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world's largest Catholic health system.
Paul said the development of EHRs has been "a significant journey to go from a process where you collect information in paper form from many different sources."
But she noted that even with the rise of EHRs, "there are a lot of interests to coordinate ... a lot of different parties that really require come coordination."
"I think when the community of providers and suppliers come together to promote the same set of standards, I do think that will make change," Paul said. "What we're trying to do is speak with a single voice, and I do think that's important."
Another participant in the agreement is EHR vendor Athenahealth. The company's director of government and regulatory affairs, Stephanie Zaremba, gave a lukewarm assessment of how significant the agreement is, at this point.
"Signing this pledge must not be regarded as a significant accomplishment or milestone for any stakeholder," Zaremba said.
"Athenahealth is and always has been committed to the goal of achieving the same ubiquitous information exchange that is commonplace in every other sector of the information economy," Zaremba said. "We have signed the latest government-orchestrated 'private sector commitment to interoperability' and are once again on the record supporting the broad goals of achieving connected care."
"The problem, however, is that one would be hard-pressed to find a stakeholder in our industry that is not already rhetorically committed to those goals," she said. "We are at the point as an industry where we need more action and fewer words. We want to see the [Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology] take a step back and allow the private sector to continue its progress around a 'bottom up' approach to interoperability, not a top-down approach centered around the low bar of federally recognized standards."
Premier, a health-care performance improvement alliance of 3,600 hospitals and 120,000 other medical providers, is another participant in the agreement.
Blair Childs, senior vice president and spokesman at Premier, said, "Members of the Premier health-care alliance are pleased to join other stakeholders that have pledged to voluntarily implement interoperability and public access standards in health information technology."
But he also said that, "While the pledge is a positive statement of commitment, we continue to believe that legislation is important."
Childs added, "We support a public rating system of vendors' technology based on its performance on outcomes measures of usability, functionality and interoperability. We also support the granting authority to investigate and fine vendors who engage in information blocking."