Many health IT industry experts have compared the evolution of health care interoperability to the banking industry, particularly in regards to the ATM network.
Did you know that it took more than 50 years for Universal ATM access to be established from the time the first ATM was invented in 1939?  Or that multivendor software was only running on 28 percent of ATMs worldwide in 2012?  If we dig deeper, we discover that one of the challenges merchants and banks faced as the ATM system started to take off in the late 1980’s was dealing with the multiple standards being used. Sound familiar?
Just take a brief look at their 50-year journey to see what it took for us to be able to access our money from almost any ATM.
- 1939 Luther George Simjian invents the unsuccessful Bankmatic automated teller machine (ATM).
- 1969 A working version of an ATM is sold to New York’s Chemical Bank
- Early 70s Online ATMs developed, ATM networks established. Shared networks appear.
- 1977 Midwest Payments Systems develops Jeanie, the first online shared-ATM network.
- Early 80s Emergence of widespread ATM installation at grocery and convenience stores provides stimulus to development of shared networks. Testing of point-of-sale (POS) debit at many of the large gas station chains.
- Late 80s ATM system flourishes. POS languishes, mired by merchant/bank conflicts, multiple standards.
- Early 90s National electronic funds transfer (EFT) networks completed. Universal ATM access established.
It feels like health care interoperability is currently in the banking era’s 80s. Not “rad,” neon legwarmers 80s. But the “mired by merchant/bank conflicts” 80s.
At CommonWell, we saw these trends in other industries and decided to take our competitive spirit and accelerate our industry into the future. And thanks to our founders’ vision and all our current members’ commitment to that vision, our efforts are moving leaps and bounds faster than many would have thought possible given what history has borne out elsewhere.
If you look at our key milestones, you can see we have made great progress. Service specifications agreed upon less than 9 months from when the Alliance was first conceived. Services launched in market before our first anniversary. A national network deployed and expanding within the next year. And now, we are on the brink of having more than 5,000 provider sites using CommonWell service nationwide.
And while we have been driving ahead towards a more valuable person-centered network, additional members were joining the Alliance almost every other week, many of whom are now working to offer CommonWell services to their clients. From five initial founding members solely focused on EHRs to now more than 34 members representing health IT suppliers across the continuum of care.
Don’t get me wrong. While we are proud of our progress, we are also eager to move even more quickly to bring interoperability nationwide. We won’t stop until all providers have access to their patients’ medical histories. We will continue to set aside our competitor differences for the Common Good. And we will all see an improvement to the delivery of health care in our nation.
I know it may sound bold, but we are an Alliance of bold people, backed by members companies that share in our common vision.
Over the course of the last month, I have spoken in front of a dozen or so different audiences, including hundreds of physicians, nurses, hospital executives, clinic staff, and even public service administrators. It has been empowering to hear the support from the attendees and encouraging knowing that while we still have much work to do, it will be worth the effort by our member companies and our Alliance.
And we don’t have decades to do it. We are doing it now.
If you know of a provider organization that is looking for these types of services or if you are a health IT supplier who would like to offer these services to your clients, please drop us a line at www.commonwellalliance.org/contactus/.
Stay tuned here and on our Twitter (@CommonWell) page for updates as we continue to move swiftly towards national health data exchange.
By Jitin Asnaani, Executive Director, CommonWell Health Alliance
 Hayashi, Fumiko, Richard Sullivan, and Stuart E. Weiner. A Guide to the ATM and Debt Card Industry. Kansas City, MO: Payments System Research Dept., Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, 2003. Payments System Research Department FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF KANSAS CITY, 2003. Web.
 Arnfield, Robin. “Why Banks Should Move to Multivendor ATM Software.” (2014): n. pag. Elan Financial Services. Networld Media Group. Web.