It’s been a lively year for health IT and interoperability and we have a lot to look forward to (and tackle!) in 2023. We recently caught up with Paul L Wilder, Executive Director of CommonWell Health Alliance to get his insights on the biggest wins of 2022 and what to expect from CommonWell in 2023. Thankfully, we also had time to chat about his favorite podcasts and how his quest to be a life-long learner impacts his work.

Watch a few video highlights here and read the full Q+A below:

In your view, what are the biggest health IT wins from 2022?

I’ll give you three. I don’t list things unless I can make three. 2022 was a pretty big year in Health IT. A fair number of wins intertwine with TEFCA, so I’m putting TEFCA as the first win.

  • TEFCA. It exemplifies what CommonWell has been trying to do from the beginning—which is to help the industry be more interoperable. We’re excited to continue to strive to be part of solving a problem as an industry and as a public-private partnership with the ONC and the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Advancement of FHIR (Fast Health Interoperability Resources). We’ve been talking about FHIR for decades now, and we’re finally moving forward. The right testing has been in place, by many parties, including CommonWell and its members. We’ve had FHIR for a while for point to point, but this year we have advanced in using FHIR at scale at using record location. (Read about our FHIR Connecthathon here)
  • Update to SAMHSA Regulations. This isn’t final yet, but we are in the midst of seeing changes from SAMHSA to allow behavioral health and substance abuse facilities entities to start participating at a much higher degree in interoperability than in the past. This is a big step forward and something we’re watching since it may lead to a better connection of mental health and physical health for true person health.

Thinking about CommonWell and its key priorities, what are you most excited about for 2023 and beyond?

Our priority is TEFCA. We have a year to get up to speed at the edge of our network to help others connect to us.

As part of this work, we’ll be updating automation in how we do patient matching across the country. We have about 180 million people in our Record Locator today, but it could be better. We can get more matches by doing aggressive improvements including matching logic, speed, security and controls to allow for more participants.

Beyond that, there will be a lot of focus on FHIR, data accuracy, duplication and normalization. We’ve been focused on interoperability when it comes to connecting dots. The next wave takes that a step further to make sure the data going through the pipes are useful and that providers are utilizing it to the best of their ability to serve their patients and themselves.

What are you hearing from your members – is interoperability improving? Is TEFCA a magic bullet? What’s the scuttlebutt?

Interoperability is still a bit of a slog. You have to be part of the willing to make it work. CommonWell provides tools to embed into applications, it’s up to the members to use those tools creatively and efficiently for their customers. Interoperability is improving in terms of scale especially, but there is still work to do.

TEFCA has engaged many entities—both vendors and their customers—in this word that suddenly became part of the regular vernacular of health IT. I believe TEFCA is an accelerator. We are already quickly connecting, but TEFCA has helped us get to the edges by defining specific guardrails. Now is the time to get involved and not sit on the sidelines.

If there was one thing you wish people better understood about the work of CommonWell, what would it be?

Very simply, we’re not here to compete. Sometimes we talk in a way that sounds competitive, but in reality we are here to support interoperability and promote it. And if you’re on the ride with us we have services that help you do more interoperability yourself. Back in 2013, when CommonWell first launched, there were a fair amount of state and regional HIEs that were concerned about CommonWell competing with their localized services. At the time, I was working with one of those HIEs in New York. I believed then and I believe now that interoperability is a team sport. It’s actually more of a league. It’s a group of teams that have to compete, but also cooperate and have a set of rules that make sense. The more the merrier. The more we have the country connect, the less siloed data we have. At the end of the day, it’s about solving a complex problem in the interest of improving the health care for us all.

Some advice for other leaders working in health IT. Go.

I’m kind of a sponge. I recommend anyone trying to lead a movement or organization recognize that your work is plugged into many different parts of life. When we think about Health IT, we then think of health and our loved ones and the entire population of a country.

I’m a voracious listener to a variety of podcasts. I think it’s important to take a large universe of influencers and see where the hooks come in or out. That’s how you help others understand what you are doing, by being more relatable.

What are your favorite podcasts?

I listen to Up First every morning to get my summary of the 3 stories of interest form NPR. When I’m jogging or exercising I listen to Planet Money and Radio Lab, sometimes This American Life and Smartless. I was on the Serial train so early, I had to wait while they were released one at a time.